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Bangladesh: Leaders Face Tough Test
Final round of reform talks to take place Monday
Golam Mustofa Sarowar (Golam)     Print Article 
Published 2006-10-23 07:54 (KST)   
The two top leaders in Bangladesh, Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and opposition leader Sheikh Hasina Wazed, are facing the toughest test of their political careers as time runs out on averting a political catastrophe. The nation is locked in a grave impasse over proposals for election reforms.

The sixth and possibly final round of reform talks scheduled to take place Monday between the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), represented by Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, and the opposition Awami League (AL), represented by Abdul Jalil, seem destined to collapse, as neither side is ready to budge from their stand on whether K. M. Hasan will become the chief adviser of the caretaker government that will oversee the elections in January, as required by Bangladesh's constitution.

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The BNP is set on making Hasan chief adviser while the AL is determined to resist it. The AL has said that Hasan, a former Supreme Court chief justice, would not be neutral. Despite the continuation of dialogue, the parties have announced conflicting programs for face-offs over the issue on the streets.

Now all eyes are fixed on Zia and Wazed as the fate of the crucial BNP-AL dialogue will be decided by them. Both leaders have been out of the country, Zia in Saudi Arabia and Wazed in Britain. Both returned home this weekend. How they handle the vital reform issue, and what mandate they give to their representatives at the talks, are questions that have been on the minds of millions of Bangladeshis across the country.

According to sources, as the tenure of the Parliament and the government expires on Oct. 27, the BNP-led government, Bangabhaban -- the president's official residence in Dhaka, the capital -- and the administration are all set to install Hasan as the chief adviser on Oct 28, regardless of the outcome of the talks.

In line with Hasan's possible swearing-in ceremony, the BNP, which heads a four-party coalition, is organizing rallies at the Paltan Maidan, in Dhaka, for Oct. 27 to Oct. 29. For its part, the AL-led 14-party alliance observed "Reform Implementation Day" on Sunday. They have also vowed to besiege the capital and paralyze the country if Hasan is made chief adviser.

In other words, the two sides are headed for a serious confrontation in the streets, raising the obvious apprehension of political turmoil, which could led to a disruption of the constitutional and democratic process that has reigned for fifteen years through three consecutive elections.

Against this backdrop, observers maintain that Zia and Wazed are faced with the uphill task of resolving the political stalemate and keeping the country from slipping into either anarchy or a state of possible extra-constitutional rule. Whether they can succeed in placing national interests above petty party interests will be an acid test of their ability to deliver the goods.

Their failure in this respect, as many observers have opined, will be tantamount to a betrayal of the nation.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Golam Mustofa Sarowar

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