India-China ‘balancing act’ to pay off in Bangladesh elections?

Staff Correspondent . Dhaka | Update:

Awami League president, prime minister Sheikh Hasina -- File photo: ReutersDoubts are there if development records of the Awami League will be enough to secure it a win in the upcoming parliamentary elections, according to South China Morning Post.

The newspaper observed that under prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, Dhaka has balanced “China’s growing interest in gaining influence with India’s unease at its regional rival’s intentions”.

As part of its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ China has planned to invest $30 billion in Bangladesh’s infrastructure building, said the Post report. “This makes Bangladesh the second-biggest recipient of Chinese money from the belt and road plan in South Asia, behind Pakistan,” it added.

India, which helped Bangladesh during the war of liberation in 1971, has spent $7 billion on infrastructure projects since Hasina came to power – much of it to facilitate connectivity to India’s own remote northeast, the report mentioned.

“While Hasina has accepted Chinese funds to speed up development, she has been a much tougher nut to crack than leaders of neighbouring countries,” observed the report titled ‘Bangladesh election: will Sheikh Hasina's China-India balancing act be enough to keep power?’

However, the report pointed out, the challenge for her AL seems to be factionalism as the ruling party is “bickering as more than 4,000 aspirants jostle to be nominated for positions in the 300-member House”.

In contrast, the report added, the AL candidates are facing a “relatively united opposition for the first time in more than 10 years”.

“This move is very significant. It will boost opposition unity and ensure complete polarisation of the electorate – Awami League versus the rest,” the Chinese newspaper quoted columnist Sukharanjan Dasgupta as saying.

It also quoted a senior official as saying: “If Hasina and other senior leaders cannot control the factionalism, many aspirants would contest as independents and split the party’s vote bank. Some may sabotage the prospect of the party’s official candidates.”

Senior leaders of the AL have already expressed apprehensions and issued warning that those who would not abide by the party’s discipline would be expelled for ever.

Opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party leader Mouded Ahmed was quoted to have alleged that members of the current administration faced serious charges of corruption and misuse of administrative machinery.

“The people are desperate for a change. They want to restore democracy and the right to vote freely,” he reportedly said.

The Chinese newspaper also mentioned that the opposition had no clear candidate for the prime ministerial position, nor did they have a vision to match Sheikh Hasina’s.

Ultimately, the report insisted, Hasina’s fate lies in the hands of young voters, as 23.5 million of the 103 million-strong electorate are aged between 18 and 28 years of age.

This group, buoyed by her strong developmentalist agenda, voted for her party in the 2008 elections, the report recalled.

Referring to analysts, the report said young voters tend to be swayed by issues and do not have the hard political loyalties of the older generation. Their turnout is said to be higher than that of older people.

“In Bangladesh, we are always choosing the lesser evil,” the report quoted as saying college student Salma Ashrafi Tonoya, 19, who will be voting for the first time this December.

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