Hasina moving away from secular platform?

December 14th, 2008 - 7:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Dec 14 (IANS) The Bangladesh Awami League (AL) is perceived to be moving away from its secularist political platform so as not to alienate the Muslim majority population in the run-up to the ninth general election due Dec 29, if its latest moves are anything to go by.The country’s oldest party, which led the freedom movement against Pakistan in 1971 and banned Islamist parties and bodies that have since returned to the political arena, is seen as trying to dodge their attacks in the poll campaign now under way.

The AL, led by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, will not formulate any anti-Islamic law if voted to power since the party is committed to restoring the image of Islam as a religion of peace and equality, media reports Sunday quoted a top party leader as saying.

AL presidium member Matia Chowdhury, who has been on the Left platform in the past, said: “AL and its allies do not want to use Islam as a political tool in the elections.”

Chowdhury said her party and the alliance strongly opposed “the forces that use the name of Islam for political purposes”.

Among other allies is former military ruler H.M. Ershad during whose eight-year rule Islamist parties were brought back to the political arena and the word ’secular’ was removed as one of the four ‘pillars’ of Bangladesh’s constitution.

“The extremists have tarnished the image of Islam as a religion of peace. AL will do everything to restore the image of Islam,” Chowdhury said adding that they would also ensure the rights to practise all religions.

Commenting on the AL manifesto unveiled last Friday, the New Age newspaper said in an editorial: “Our overriding concern, however, relates to the conspicuous absence in the manifesto of even the slightest hint of how the party plans to rise up to the increasing threat of Islamist radicalism.

“For a party that has boasted of its secular-democratic credentials - justifiably so, one must add - such silence marks a departure from its political position.

“It is entirely likely that the Awami League has kept mum on the issue for fear of being branded as anti-Islam; however, the party needs to realise its unwillingness to take a stand might in the end harm them both electorally and politically and, worse still, allow space for a cultural platform of the Islamist fundamentalist forces,” the newspaper said.

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