What does Hasina win mean for Bangladesh?

DHAKA, Dec 30 (Reuters) – An alliance under Bangladesh’s former prime minister Sheikh Hasina has won a more than two-thirds parliamentary majority in the country’s first polls in seven years, election officials said on Tuesday.

Following are answers to questions about what her victory means for the South Asian nation of more than 140 million people:

Bangladesh’s past experiences with democracy have been mixed at best, with losing parties refusing to accept results and resorting at times to violent street protests and strikes. Military figures, in and out of uniform, have sporadically stepped in, justifying their actions on the need for order.

Main opposition figure Begum Khaleda Zia suggested on election day she would win any fair vote, and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party later complained about cheating. Those comments could set the stage for post-election turmoil.

However, the outgoing army-backed interim government said it was ready to crush any outbreaks of violence, and as of Tuesday evening there were no reports of serious public protests over the election results.

Various monitoring groups say that while there is room for improvement, they found the elections relatively free and fair.

‘The process appears to have yielded a result that accurately reflects the will of Bangladeshi voters,’ the U.S.-based International Republican Institute said on Tuesday.

Bangladesh’s neighbours worry an increasingly violent Islamist militant minority could provide support and shelter for radicals in their own countries.

Hasina has been a consistent opponent of such groups, and said during her campaign she would act aggressively against them.

Her overwhelming victory and the fact some analysts attribute it partly to Khaleda’s alliance with an Islamist party suggest Hasina can follow through on her campaign pledges without concern for negative political consequences, and also resist pressure to make Bangladesh less tolerant and secular.

Reinforcing that view was a poor performance by the main Islamist party, which lost almost all its parliamentary seats.

Hasina’s platform and past policies point to support for liberalising the economy to boost growth in a country where nearly 40 percent of the population live on less than $1 a day.

Her huge majority may also give her the clout to develop major coal and natural gas resources and much-needed power generating plants, which could require foreign firms’ expertise.

In July, India’s Tata Group scrapped plans for a $3-billion investment because of a lack of natural gas. Foreign direct investment in 2007 was $666 million, down 19 percent from 2006.

If Hasina cannot prevent the street protests and strikes seen in the past, many investors will still stay away.

Endemic corruption that distorts Bangladesh’s economic playing field has been another turn-off for investors. The outgoing government detained Hasina for a year on graft charges, which she denied. She has pledged to fight corruption this time.

In one sign of confidence in prospects for economic improvement, the Bangladeshi stocks all-share index closed up more than 2 percent on Tuesday.

‘The Alwami League-led alliance’s landslide victory has created high hope among investors a business-friendly and corruption-free atmosphere will be established,’ Moshtaque Ahmed Sadeque, Investment Promotion Services Ltd managing director, told Reuters.

Analysts and diplomats say the army is likely to at least hover behind the scenes for a time to see if the new government can get a grip on corruption and avoid violence.

If so, it may leave things to Hasina and her ministers. One incentive for doing so is that a lack of involvement at home means maximum flexibility for the military to serve in various overseas U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Those generate compensatory payments to the country as well as pay the participating soldiers and officers far above what they could earn at home.

‘In the past we saw many repetitions of violence and broken promises. So I take nothing for granted.’ — marketing officer Salma Rahman.

‘People are looking at a new day and happy to bask in new sunshine.’ — businessman Zamirul Paltu.

‘I voted in all three past elections but never saw such overwhelming enthusiasm for change.’ — banker Mesbahuddin Tuhin.

‘We hope our politicians will correct their past mistakes.’ — university student Tania Rahman.

‘The results came as a big shock … Nothing worked like we had expected. People seemed determined to change.’ — Delwar Hossain, campaign manager for a BNP candidate in the eastern Brahmanbaria district.

Reporting by Ruma Paul, Anis Ahmed, Serajul Islam Quadir and Masud Karim. Writing by Jerry Norton; Editing by Sugita Katyal.

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