Bangladesh parties oppose 33 percent women’s quota


Dhaka : The two main political parties of Bangladesh have disapproved of the Election Commission's proposal to reserve 33 percent of nominations for women in elections, despite both being headed by women who have ruled the country.

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The country's oldest political party the Awami League, headed by Sheikh Hasina, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by Begum Khaleda Zia, expressed their reservations about the proposal, which the Election Commission and the interim government want to implement as part of electoral reforms.

Besides Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia, the two former prime ministers around whose rivalry Bangladesh's politics has revolved since the 1980s, the country has always had a plethora of women in public life. Their role has been relatively better than other South Asian countries, political analysts say.

Another cause of unhappiness is the electoral body's proposal to ban political parties from having youth or student fronts. Both the parties traditionally draw their cadres from these fronts.

"We generally support most of the commission's proposals to bring reforms in political parties. But it will not be possible to accommodate 33 percent female representatives in each and every committee," Awami League general secretary Abdul Jalil was quoted as saying by the New Age newspaper.

Jalil drew a line between women's participation in political activities and their being nominated to contest elections. He argued that the commission might have put forth such a proposal considering the participation of women leaders and activists in street demonstrations.

"But taking part in field-level programmes and leading an organisation at different tiers are not the same thing," he remarked.

Sheikh Hasina has led the Awami League from the front since 1981 and electoral reforms have been high on her political agenda.

M.K. Anwar, vice president of BNP, linked the women's issue to the country's culture and to the urban-rural divide wherein, according to him, rural women do not participate in political activities.

The Communist Party of Bangladesh too found the commission's proposal "unrealistic". Its general secretary, Mujahidul Islam Selim, said the spirit of incorporating women in different committees is appropriate. "But the proposed percentage is unrealistic."

On the idea of banning student fronts, a former student leader pointed out to the role played by youth groups in national movements and said the ban was unreasonable.

"The student community played a pioneering role in different national movements and the initiative taken by a quarter of the interim government (to control student politics) is illogical," said Sultan Mansur, a former vice-president of the Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU).

"Student politics will survive by its own strength and the students will not bow to any external pressure," he said.