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Sheikh Hasina as soon as fought for democracy in Bangladesh. Her critics say she now threatens it

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is dealing with a common election Sunday, a vote she is all however sure to win. Critics say it may additional tighten her grip on energy after a 15-year-rule that turned a politician who as soon as fought for democratic freedoms into an more and more autocratic chief.

Hasina’s principal rival, the Bangladesh Nationalist Occasion, is boycotting the polls, claiming her authorities can not guarantee a good vote, and making it more and more probably the 76-year-old premier will safe her fourth consecutive and fifth general time period in workplace.

Her supporters say Hasina — the longest-serving chief in Bangladesh’s historical past — and her Awami League have given them a rustic with a rising business and buzzing growth tasks. The soundness has staved off army coups which have shaken the younger, predominantly Muslim nation strategically positioned between India and Myanmar.

However Hasina’s political life, like her nation, started with violence. On Aug. 15, 1975, a gaggle of army officers behind a coup assassinated her father, Sheikh Mujib Rahman, the primary chief of impartial Bangladesh.

Some say the brutal act, which additionally killed practically her complete household, pushed her to consolidate unprecedented energy and motivated her all through her profession in politics.

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“Hasina has one very highly effective high quality as a politician — and that’s to weaponize trauma,” stated Avinash Paliwal, a senior lecturer specializing in South Asian strategic affairs at SOAS College of London.

A supply who labored carefully with Hasina says her ambition was to create the nation envisioned by her father, who led the brand new nation after its forces, aided by India, defeated Pakistan in 1971.

“She felt her father’s work was reduce brief, and that solely she may full it,” they instructed The Related Press, talking on situation of anonymity as a result of they weren’t approved to talk with the media.

After the assassination, Hasina lived for years in exile in India, then made her manner again to Bangladesh and took over the Awami League. However the nation’s army rulers had her out and in of home detention all through the Nineteen Eighties till, after common elections in 1996, she grew to become prime minister for the primary time.

What adopted was a decadeslong energy battle between Hasina and former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, the chief of the Bangladesh Nationalist Occasion, now ailing and below home arrest.

The 2 ladies alternated operating the nation for years in a bitter rivalry that polarized Bangladesh. Hasina has usually accused the BNP of courting hard-line extremists that her social gathering, which calls itself average and secular, had labored to stamp out. Zia’s BNP claims the Awami League is utilizing oppressive techniques to remain in energy.

Analysts say that whereas they challenge totally different ideologies, each events are tainted by a historical past of electoral violence and politics of retribution.

When Hasina was reelected in 2008, she mounted her sights on the financial system and constructed infrastructure beforehand unseen in Bangladesh — energy traces that reached distant villages, highways, rail traces and ports, and a garment business that grew to become one of many world’s best.

“I assumed my household would by no means have energy at residence,” stated Abdul Halim, a rickshaw puller in Dhaka. “Now my complete village has electrical energy.”

Forward of the vote, Hasina has flaunted a few of her signature achievements, comparable to Dhaka’s metro and the nation’s longest bridge, which she inaugurated in 2021. She has solid herself because the chief of an impoverished nation aspiring to turn into an upper-middle-income nation by 2031.

“Bangladesh won’t ever look again once more,” Hasina stated in 2023. “It’s going to proceed marching to be a wise, developed and affluent nation.”

However the latest world financial slowdown has not spared Bangladesh, exposing cracks in its financial system which have triggered labor unrest and dissatisfaction.

Mohammed Shohid, a driver in Dhaka, stated the federal government has didn’t cease value hikes of important items — beans and tomatoes have practically doubled in value over the past two years. “We can not afford them anymore,” he stated.

Hasina’s critics say her authorities has used harsh instruments to muzzle dissent, shrink press freedoms and curtail civil society. Rights teams cite pressured disappearances of critics. The federal government rejects the accusations.

Within the 2018 election, an AL-led alliance gained 96% of the parliament seats amid widespread allegations of vote-rigging, which authorities denied. In 2014, all main opposition events boycotted the vote. The BNP says about 20,000 of its members have been arrested in latest months on trumped-up expenses forward of Sunday’s vote.

“There’s a historical past of an autocratic slide in Hasina’s decision-making,” stated Paliwal, the college lecturer. “The present elections could also be a last stamp on a full-blown one-party state.”

Voters like Dhaka resident Tamanna Rahman, 46, say the prime minister has no actual challengers. “We should not have any choice however to elect Hasina once more.”

On the worldwide scene, Hasina has cultivated ties with highly effective international locations and efficiently balanced between rivals. She staunchly helps each India and China, whilst the 2 Asian giants are locked in a standoff over a disputed border area. In flip, Beijing and New Delhi have bankrolled a slew of Bangladesh’s infrastructure tasks.

She has nurtured historic ties with Russia, even because it presses on preventing in Ukraine whereas additionally more and more courting Western leaders.

“Say what you’ll about Hasina, however she has managed the good energy competitors very successfully,” stated Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Heart’s South Asia Institute.

Hasina additionally gained worldwide reward when she gave shelter to Rohingya Muslims fleeing prosecution in neighboring Myanmar in 2017. Some 1.1 million Rohingya stay in overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh right now, many embarking on lethal sea voyages for an opportunity of a greater life elsewhere.

The US — the most important export marketplace for Bangladeshi clothes — introduced visa restrictions in Could on anybody disrupting Bangladesh’s electoral course of. The announcement got here after Washington expressed considerations over human rights violations and press freedoms within the nation.

A few of the strain she has been below grew to become evident throughout a latest information convention.

“In the event you speak an excessive amount of, I’ll shut down every part,” she snapped, her salt-and-pepper hair lined by a standard sari, her gray eyes mounted on the reporters.

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