Riots in Bangladesh May Benefit Islamists

October 30, 2006

Author: David Montero

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN: A hail of bullets and rocks swept over Bangladesh's cities this past weekend, spawning a deadly political crisis that threatens upcoming elections in January. Although averted for now, as of Sunday night, there are still pitfalls that may prove a boon for the country's Islamist parties, observers say.

On Friday, the ruling Bangladesh National Party (BNP), which took office in 2001 in a coalition with Islamist parties, officially ended its five-year term. Bangladesh's Constitution stipulates that a transitional, nonparty caretaker government must assume the reins to help steer the country toward elections in January.

For several days this weekend, political leaders from the ruling BNP and the opposition Awami League bickered over who would head the interim government. Meanwhile, party activists sparred in violent clashes that left 18 dead and hundreds wounded. But on Sunday evening the current president, Iajuddin Ahmed, was sworn in as the head of the interim administration.

For now a crisis seems to have been avoided, but observers cautioned against jumping to optimistic conclusions. The days leading to January's elections may be fraught with violence that could benefit Islamist parties in the world's third largest Muslim country.

So continues a longstanding tradition of political violence in Bangladesh. It is a crisis the country can ill afford, given the disturbing expansion in recent years of Islamist political power and a culture of intolerance.