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Netting the Big Fish

2 minute read
Simon Robinson

If Bangladesh’s interim leaders are serious about cleaning up government before holding new elections, voters may be in for a long wait: the country is consistently ranked one of the most corrupt in the world by Berlin-based NGO Transparency International, and Bangladeshis have long complained that many public officials are on the take. So, the arrests of at least 20 senior politicians in recent days were greeted with a good deal of glee; one government adviser hailed the move as “jihad against crime and corruption.”

Since taking power in mid-January amid allegations of electoral fraud in the run-up to Jan. 22’s now-postponed elections, the interim government has rounded up thousands of lower level officials. But as government communications adviser Major General M.A. Matin told reporters, “Our business at the moment is netting big fish.” Among them: senior politicians and former ministers from both the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its archrival, the Awami League (AL). The detainees, who maintain their innocence, have been imprisoned for 30 days without bail on suspicion of “antistate activities, sabotage and corruption.” They have not yet been charged with specific crimes.

Trials for so many high-profile politicians are likely to be long and sensational, and the military-backed caretaker body says it wants to go after dozens of other pols as well—a potential disruption that could delay elections further. No wonder this week’s other big news—the appointment of a respected ex-bureaucrat to head Bangladesh’s electoral commission—was greeted with only muted applause. It may be a while until he gets to work.

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