Sunday, January 21, 2018

AL govt catching up with election pledges

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The Awami League's road to a second straight term four years ago was paved on the campaign pledge of development, but it has detoured onto a byway of promises deferred or left behind in many cases. Things are looking bright in power sector, as promised, but two major projects Padma Bridge and Metrorail have not made significant headway.

The government had also promised to initiate second bridges on the rivers Padma and Jamuna, but has failed to make good on it, reports bdnews24.com. Not much has been heard about the planned laying of railway tracks surrounding the capital either. After Dhaka-Chittagong Highway, the government was supposed to develop the Dhaka-Mongla and Dhaka-Bangabandhu Bridge Highways to four-lane ones, but the first project is yet to complete.

The first Hasina government had struck the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord two decades ago and pledged to operationalise the remaining parts of the deal this time, but hills people say nothing has been done. The government had pledged to declare newspaper an industry and make separate guidelines for online newspapers and social media, but not one of them has materialized.

The Awami League rode back to power nine years  ago with a pledge to cut rice prices to Tk 10 per kg but it is struggling to rein in the prices of the staple. On the financial front, things look bleak. The capital market has not smarted from the 2010 bust while the banking sector has gone volatile due to the release of bad loans and embezzlements.

Before the Jan 5, 2014 elections marred by the violent boycott of the BNP, the Awami League had said it would dissolve parliament and hold snap polls if a political consensus was reached. But there is no sign of compromise between the two major players over the election-time government while the public and businesses are wary of a fresh spate of violence ahead of the next elections.

Some analysts, however, are considering the construction of many structures like Moghbazar-Mouchak Flyover in Dhaka and Bahaddarhat Flyover in Chittagong as major signs of development. In their view, Bangladesh has seen infrastructure improve in past four years, but not as much as pledged by the Awami League.

On the whole, urban areas have seen economic growth but little of the glow has rubbed off on the marginal people in the villages. Observers think the large-scale infrastructure projects will not make a big breakthrough in the last year of the government. Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader's comments at a recent event added fuel to their fear.

"We need to take short-term, realistic decisions ahead of the election," he told a meeting of Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority last Sunday. Political commentator Dr Mizanur Rahman Shelley, speaking to bdnews24.com about the completion of the government's fourth year in office, said, "Overall, the government has had a mixed bag of successes and failures."

"No matter how hastily and seriously it works in the final year, the time is too little," he added. At the inauguration of the National Development Fair on Thursday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, "The development we've achieved is for all the people, especially those in the rural areas. We want to see all the villages free from poverty, to build roads for them."

But for Shelley, the fruits of economic growth have not cascaded down to vast swathes of the population. "This growth is imbalanced, full of inequality…," he said. In her New Year message, Hasina said Bangladesh achieved lower middle-income status and is "a role model of development in the world".

Speaking about the achievements, Shelley said the indicators the government is talking about while describing its achievements, like GDP growth and rise in per capita income, were clearly visible but 'unfortunately, the inequality got starker".

A member of HM Ershad's cabinet, he, however, lauded the government for tackling militancy head-on with great success. Prof Mohammad Abu Yusuf, who teaches development studies at Dhaka University, agreed with Mizanur about inequality.

Development is yet to embrace rural Bangladesh, he said "Maybe, the government will focus on this issue in the last year of its term," he hoped. Prof Wahiduddin Mahmud, Chairman of Economic Research Group, says local and foreign investors have their doubts about political stability in 2018. "I don't think the continuous slump in private sector investment will stop," Wahiduddin said.    

Dr Shelley and Prof Yusuf, however, do think Bangladesh will reap the benefit of infrastructure upgrade if the Awami League can remain in power. Four years ago, Bangladesh was sucked into a vortex of violence centering the 10th parliamentary elections.

The BNP organized similar protests in the following year in a failed attempt to topple the Awami League. Political tensions eased when the BNP withdrew itself from violent protests, but what is abundantly clear from the remarks of its leaders about cases against Khaleda Zia and the next election is that they will not cede any ground.

The BNP is still harping on the same demand - a nonpartisan election-time government. It says it will not go to the next election with Hasina in charge while the Awami League is bent on staying in power during the polls in line with the Constitution.   Dr Shelley thinks the government's failure to reach a political compromise is its 'biggest failure'.
"Economic developments are visible, but on the political front it is full of failures," he said.

"A truly meaningful democracy has not been established. "The ruling party has brought the governing tools under its control by massively using its power and influence and has pushed the opposition to a corner. That's why democracy could not flourish to the full," he said. "Anxiety and fears over possible violence have lingered. If the trend continues in the year of voting, anarchy may strike again," he added.

-AA News Desk

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