Bangladesh: Pivotal Elections amidst Islamic Threats

General es 18/12/08


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | No. 509 | Wed 17 Dec 2008           

On 14 August 1947 predominantly Hindu India was partitioned and the
Muslim-majority regions of Punjab in the west and Bengal in the
east became the independent Muslim state of Pakistan. Power was
concentrated in West Pakistan which was separated from East
Pakistan by 1600km of Indian territory.

East Pakistan's 1970 elections delivered an overwhelming victory to
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's Awami League which stood on a platform of
secularism, Bengali (as distinct from Islamic) culture and autonomy
from West Pakistan. After Sheikh Mujibur was subsequently arrested
and taken to West Pakistan, Awami League leaders in exile declared
independence. The Muslim Punjabi-dominated Pakistani Army then
invaded pro-secular East Pakistan, triggering the War of Liberation
through which East Pakistan's Bengalis fought for and achieved
their independence with Indian assistance and at the cost of up to
three million lives.

Upon his return to Bangladesh (formerly East Pakistan), Sheikh
Mujibur served as prime minister and then president until he was
assassinated in a military coup in 1975. In Bangladesh, just as in
Pakistan, the democratically elected secular government was
replaced with a Sunni Islamic dictatorship through a military coup.
In 1977 General Zia Rahman of the pro-Pakistan pro-Islam Bangladesh
National Party (BNP) assumed the presidency and wrote Islam into
the Constitution. In 1981 Zia was assassinated during a failed
military coup. Islam was declared the official state religion in
1988.

In 1991 the BNP's Begum Khaleda Zia, widow of President Zia Rahman,
became prime minister and amended the Constitution to render the
position of president ceremonial. In 1996 the Awami League won the
elections and Sheikh Hasina Wajed, the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur
Rahman, became prime minister. In October 2001, a BNP-led coalition
that included hardline pro-Sharia Islamic parties won the elections
on a pro-Islam, anti-West platform that protested America's bombing
of Afghanistan and use of Pakistan as a military base. Over the
next five years Islamic terror and civil unrest escalated until a
state of emergency was declared and the January 2007 elections were
postponed. Bangladeshis will now go to the polls on 29 December
2008.

Once again the elections will pit the pro-Pakistan, pro-Islam BNP
against the secular Awami League. These elections are pivotal for
Bangladesh's future. The terrorist outfit Jama'at-ul-Mujahideen
Bangladesh (JMB) has been issuing death threats against
commentators and Awami League ministers who have spoken out against
the Islamic agenda. JMB -- which has reportedly spent the last
almost two years of emergency rule regrouping -- has also declared
jihad against the secular judiciary, the media and 'the evil
system' of democracy. If the BNP coalition can win political power
then the Islamic parties will act fast to further consolidate
Islam. One of these Islamic parties -- the Jamaat-e-Islami -- has
promised to enact a blasphemy law and provide military training for
madrassa students. If the Islamic parties fail to win political
power then Islamic militants will doubtless react and seek to
discredit, destabilise and bring down the elected government
through terrorism. Security is being tightened across the state to
prevent a JMB terror campaign from threatening the elections
themselves. Tensions are escalating.

Please put the election date, 29 December, in your diary and pray
for Bangladesh, where the Church -- which is active and growing
despite persecution -- still comprises less than one percent of the
population.

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR:

* the Holy Spirit to draw the Bangladeshi Church into prayer and
  deepen and strengthen her faith.

* God's wisdom and direction for the Church and civic Christian
  leadership, that they will lead in accordance with his will.

* Christ to enlighten the minds of Bangladeshis to the
  repressiveness and danger of political Islam; may their hearts
  long for liberty and equity in a secular state.

* God, with his heavenly forces, to intervene against Islamic
  terrorists and politicians who would turn Bangladesh into a
  repressive, conflict-wracked, Sharia state; may he frustrate the
  way of the wicked (Psalm 146:9).

'Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.'
(Psalm 124:8 ESV)

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SUMMARY TO USE IN BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE       
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ISLAMIC THREATS TO BANGLADESHI PIVOTAL ELECTIONS

Politics in Bangladesh is a perpetual struggle between the secular
Awami League, which led Bangladesh to its liberation from Pakistan,
and the pro-Pakistan, pro-Islam Bangladesh National Party (BNP).
Whilst the Awami League clearly won the 1971 elections, the BNP
took power in 1975 after an assassination and military coup. In
1996 the Awami League was democratically re-elected. However in
October 2001 the BNP, in coalition with several hard-line pro-
Sharia parties, regained power on a platform of Islamic solidarity
with Afghanistan and anger over America's use of Pakistan as a
military base. Terrorism escalated and the January 2007 elections
were postponed. They will now be held on 29 December 2008, with
Islamic militants threatening terror. These elections are pivotal
for Bangladesh, where Christians comprise less than one percent.
Please pray.

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The WEA Religious Liberty Commission sponsors this
RL Prayer List to help individuals and groups pray
specifically and regularly for religious liberty
issues, and in particular to uphold the Church
where it is suffering persecution.

RL Prayer is moderated by Ron Clough, a commissioner
of the WEA RLC and convenor of the Australian EA RLC.
Elizabeth Kendal researched and authored this message.