The next general election in Bangladesh may be the start of a process of power transfer from a generation to the next as the leaders from the 1940s and 1960s are still in power but may soon retire, said a new research report Launched in London.
The BNP succession is beginning, with Khaleda Zia slowly transferring power to her son, Tarique, while in the Awami League it is not clear which of Sheikh Hasina's relatives, many of whom are dual nationals of other countries, might ultimately take over.
In the run-up to parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, the ideological clash between secular Bengalis and Islamists has already spilt onto the streets in what many now believe is a make-or-break struggle for the identity of the world's third largest Muslim country.
In this report titled ‘Political Islam and the Elections in Bangladesh’ visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Frances Harrison, examines the ideological and political differences between the various Islamic parties, alliances and militant groups in Bangladesh, with special focus on Jamaat-e-Islami.
The report examines allegations about the extent of Jamaat infiltration into the country's economic life and educational system but also looks the creeping Islamisation at village level, as well as charting recent attacks on religious minorities.
It said some of the key areas to watch over the next six months will be: the formation of an election time administration to oversee polls, death penalties being carried out for war crimes, violence against religious minorities, especially in marginal seats, a realignment and possible unifying of rival Islamist forces, legal procedures against Khaleda Zia's son, who is in the UK.
It observes that the confrontation continues and it eventually comes to a stage where the army is reluctantly compelled to step in to maintain law and order. Another more hopeful scenario is that the politicians will get to the brink and then back off and strike a compromise on an election administration.
Many political analysts believe India, the US and the United Nations will play an important role in pressuring the various political players into participating in elections. India, with strategic support from the United States, is considered to be the kingmaker and the assumption is the Awami League still has Delhi's backing.
The consensus seems to be that the Bangladeshi military has no interest in stepping into power again, unless its arm is severely twisted and the security situation is totally out of control with rioting on the streets.
The suggestion is if the UN threatened Bangladesh's lucrative peacekeeping roles abroad that would be sufficient leverage to persuade the army to take action.
Some argue there is more sympathy for Islamists in the military than the general population and stronger anti-Indian and anti-Hindu sentiment.
Others say the Islamists who joined the army between1975-96 are now retiring and parties like Jamaat have very little influence today.
There is however no doubt there's great frustration on the part of younger and mid-ranking officers over the failure of the two main parties.
Role of Election Commission
Transparency International thought the Election Commission could function independently but it would wholly depend on the leadership of whatever political authority oversees the process.
However the Election Commission doesn't hold an election alone. It needs the police and civil service, both of which are extremely politically polarised.
One former senior civil servant said that legally the Election Commission had unlimited powers but in reality they were very limited.
Some say the influence of Khaleda Zia's son, Tarique, is growing within the party, especially among younger members who are more radical.
Many in the party hope he can return home if corruption charges (which he says are politically motivated) are lifted.
There's been criticism of some of Khaleda Zia's decisions, such as issuing a 48-hour ultimatum in May during the Hefajate protests to the government to restore the caretaker system. Even her alliance partners say it was a baffling demand.
BNP analysts say the Hefajat vote bank may be significant in certain constituencies in Chittagong and Sylhet, comprising 20-30,000 votes.
One academic estimated the Hefajate Islam vote block as 4-5 percent of the total. This assumes it's not just the madrasa students and their families, but also village Imams trained in the Deobandi madrasa, who may vote against the Awami League in protest at the violent dispersal of the Hefajat protestors in Dhaka in May.
It's not that voters relate to Hefajat's 13-point demands but they have an emotional and respectful response to elderly clerics and a soft corner for religion, though not an Islamic state. Many Bangladeshis didn't know who the bloggers were, but heard that the Prophet was insulted.
Impact of War Crimes Trial
The unknown factor is whether the government will carry out one or two death penalties before the elections.
There is still the appeals process but it's expected that could be completed in time. Some suggest executions might lead to a surge of popular support, especially among a younger generation that takes pride in the trial and derives a sense of national identity from it.
Jamaat activists say if the threat of executions were taken off the table, the current level of violence would cease.
Some even say a deal between Jamaat and the Awami League might be possible now, especially as the government needs the opposition parties to participate in elections.
Some suggest 12-14 percent of the voters belong to civil society groups who could swing the outcome for the Awami League.
These are 5,000 or more human rights, women's and professional organisations that work at village level and represent social democrats, liberals and those who supported the War of Liberation, but are not pro-Awami League as such.