By Serajul Quadir and Ruma Paul
DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh’s ruling Awami League unveiled its election manifesto on Tuesday, making sweeping promises to eradicate poverty and boost the economy as it seeks to retain power for a third straight term.
The 88-page manifesto released by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised to increase the country’s gross domestic product to 9 percent from the 7.8 percent the government reported for the 2017-18 fiscal year, partly driven by a more competitive presence in international markets.
The Awami League is up against the National Unity Front, a coalition of smaller parties that have formed what they say is a movement to restore democracy in Bangladesh.
Ahead of elections due on Dec. 30, violent clashes have broken out across Bangladesh since campaigning began last week, and candidates of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which is part of the coalition, have been attacked. The Awami League has denied involvement.
The coalition and human rights groups have criticised Hasina’s government for being increasingly authoritarian and imposing curbs on free speech and the media.
Hasina’s rule is credited for an improved economy, over 80 percent of which depends on a robust garments export sector. But her government has been criticised for cracking down on dissent, going after journalists by introducing tough new laws, and locking up opposition workers.
The Awami League manifesto touted the country’s improving international image under Hasina, who has been lauded for providing refuge for hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled violence and persecution in Myanmar.
The opposition alliance’s manifesto released on Monday took aim at the rights abuses Hasina’s government has been accused of, saying it would allow freedom of expression and would punish police officials involved in “politically motivated” arrests. (https://reut.rs/2R3mbaZ)
The BNP also released its manifesto on Tuesday, saying it would modernise education for madrassas, or Islamic religious schools, and offer “honourable allowances” to mosque leaders.
Hasina and BNP leader Khaleda Zia share a bitter rivalry and Hasina has criticised the BNP for its links to the Jamaat-e-Islami, a group that opposed Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan. Khaleda is in jail on corruption charges she says were aimed at keeping her away from politics.
Jamaat’s registration as a political party has been revoked under Hasina’s rule but at least 22 of its members are contesting the elections under the BNP banner.
(Additional reporting and writing by Zeba Siddiqui; Editing by Ed Osmond)