Hasina pledges economic freedom as Dhaka poll campaign heats up

December 17th, 2008 - 5:27 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Dec 17 (IANS) Bangladesh’s former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, fighting a grim electoral battle, Wednesday pledged “economic freedom, peace, prosperity and development,” even as her rival Khaleda Zia declared that her Islamist alliance would get a two-thirds majority. “I have witnessed a high tide (of public support) in favour of ’sheaf of paddy’ (BNP’s poll symbol). Inshallah, we will go to power again with two-thirds majority,” Zia told an election rally at Karwan Bazar in the national capital.

Hasina’s emphasis is on economic freedom.

She said she had faced “foreign” pressure to sell country’s natural gas to other countries during her rule between 1996 and 2001 but did not give in.

“I as the daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman neither yielded to any pressure nor agreed to sell gas,” she said without naming the source of the ‘pressure’.

Ever since Bangladesh discovered large quantities of natural gas with the help of multinational oil and gas corporations, it has been urged to export it to make the exploration task economically viable.

The MNCs have been pointing at neighbour India’s growing energy requirements and as a natural market for Bangladesh.

However, export of gas to India has become “politically sensitive” for successive governments, with the opposition and sections of the intelligentsia terming any sale to India as “sell-out.”

After the Zia Government dithered, the caretaker government now in office also sat over a $3 billion investment proposal from India’s Tata Group this year, forcing the latter to withdraw.

Hasina reiterated the familiar line on gas exports: the country would first meet its domestic requirements and determine if there is any exportable surplus.

“We got independence, but not economic freedom. Economic freedom was the key point of the Liberation War,” Hasina exhorted people at one of the many rallies she addressed, Star Online reported Wednesday.

“Awami League will realise economic independence and change the fate of the people, if voted to power,” Hasina said at Gopalganj-3, the constituency that has her ancestral home, where she is seeking re-election.

She pledged to establish Bangladesh as “the most peaceful nation in South Asia,” New Age newspaper said.

“You will have to make a choice - whether you want anarchy and terrorism or peace and stability, whether you want food deficit or self-sufficiency in food… and cast your votes after taking a decision,” Hasina said.

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