Bangladesh's Khaleda ready to work with Hasina

2/01/2009 - 10:06

By Anis Ahmed

DHAKA (Reuters) - The party of former Bangladesh prime minister Khaleda Zia said on Friday she was ready to work with her bitter rival Sheikh Hasina who will lead the new government following elections this week.

Hasina, who led her Awami League and its allies to a huge win in the election, is expected to be sworn in on Monday, her party said, ending two years of rule by an army-backed interim administration.

Khaleda had challenged the result but later her Bangladesh Nationalist Party said it would give Hasina a chance to govern.

On Friday, in a further sign of reconciliation between the two leaders known as the "battling Begums" for their decade-old animosity, the BNP said it was ready to do business with the new administration.

"Khaleda Zia will be ready to cooperate with the incoming prime minister and her government," BNP secretary-general Khandakaer Delwar Hossain said. "We hope Sheikh Hasina will invite Khaleda Zia and discuss cooperation."

Hasina had earlier said she was ready to offer senior parliamentary posts to Khaleda and her party, and even a few ministerial positions as well, if they cooperated with her new government.

Bangladesh, a calamity-prone Indian Ocean coastal country of more than 140 million people, has a history of post-election violence, usually triggered by the losing parties.

The losers have often resorted to strikes and street protests that can turn violent -- and provide a rationale for political intervention by the military.

But analysts said the result from Monday's election was so decisive that it would be difficult for the BNP to mount a popular campaign.

Hasina's alliance won more than two-thirds seats in the 300-member parliament, against just 31 by Khaleda's group, its worst showing in any poll.

"This time it is going to be different, largely because the gap between winners and losers is as wide as an ocean," said Ataur Rahman, chairman of the Bangladesh Political Science Association.

The Awami League said its new-elected members of parliament will begin taking oaths on Sunday to be followed by Hasina's assumption of office the next day.

"Sheikh Hasina will take oath as new prime minister likely on Monday, after her alliance members take oath as parliamentarians," Syed Ashraful Islam, a leader of the Awami League, said.


Hasina and Khaleda had alternated in power during the 15 years up to 2006 in Bangladesh's personality-dominated politics.

An army-backed interim government, headed by former central bank chief Fakhruddin Ahmed, took over in January 2007 after months of political violence. It cancelled a general election due that month, imposed emergency and cracked down on corruption.

On Friday, the interim administration said it planned to hand over power by the middle of next week following the successful conclusion of the election.

"We want to complete the transfer of power by middle of next week, but the MPs elected from the other alliance led by Begum Khaleda Zia, another ex-PM, will probably not take oath immediately," said an official.

Hasina has listed poverty and Islamist militancy as the main challenges facing Bangladesh. Some 45 percent of the population live below the poverty line.

On Friday she told a visiting U.N. team she planned to press on with an anti-corruption drive launched by the interim administration.

(Additional reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

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