Bangladesh: Islamist-backed party routing secularists

July 16, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-asia

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has won mayoral elections in five cities with Islamist support, routing the ruling Awami League (AL), a secular party, in an ominous development for the Christian minority ahead of forthcoming general elections.

Elections for the Bangladeshi parliament are due in around six months

Elections for the Bangladeshi parliament are due in around six months

Bangladesh, July 15, 2013: The BNP swept to victory last month in the cities of Sylhet, Barisal, Khulna and Rajshahi, removing the AL incumbents with big margins. Then on 6 July, the centre-right party also took Gazipur, an AL stronghold.

The BNP’s vote was boosted by support from Jama’at-e-Islami (JI), the country’s largest Islamist party, which did not field any candidates. The latter accused the AL of atheism, a strategy that proved effective in Bangladesh, which is around 90% Muslim.

People have not liked the way the AL government has heavily cracked down on Islamist protesters in recent months. JI was one of the main instigators of a violent uprising that started in February, sparked by war crimes trials of leading Islamists for their part in the country’s 1971 War of Independence; four have been sentenced to death. The BNP backed the protests, in which around 150 people have been killed.

The Islamists have been calling for Bangladesh to become an Islamic state and for an anti-blasphemy law that carries a death sentence for those who insult Islam or Muhammad.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has continued to affirm the country’s secular character and upheld the right to freedom of religion. But the success of the BNP in the mayoral elections indicates greater support for the Islamists’ agenda than for her party’s secular one.

These results are a strong indicator of the country’s mood ahead of the general election in around six months’ time; political analysts are predicting a heavy defeat for the AL.

This could be devastating for Bangladeshi Christians, who comprise less than one per cent of the population. They have been targeted in a number of violent attacks this year as Islamists have become increasingly emboldened during the protests.

Jama’at-e-Islami (JI) has threatened to “kill all the Malauns [infidels]”; Muslims view Christians and other non-Muslims as “infidels”. Christian homes have been torched and churches threatened. On 6 June, a predominantly Christian village was raided and plundered and a nearby seminary attacked; the rector and a number of students were severely beaten.

– barnabas team

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