Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Going by what Bangladesh saw in the run-up to the 5 Jan 2014 national election, 2018 threatened to be quite similar to that bloody chaos. Ten years on in her second stint as prime minister, Sheikh Hasina had a full proof strategy — right or wrong, ethical or unethical, democratic or undemocratic. No concessions to the BNP and its closest ally, Jamaat-e-Islami, the only political outfit with some teeth aside from Hasina's Awami League. Despite losing almost all top leaders to the war crimes trial, the party cadre remained quietly resolute with plans to hit back, given an opportunity. A ruthless anti-terror drive, no doubt, dampened their resolve. For Hasina, a return of the 2001-06 rulers would be catastrophic. So she did what she thought she had to do.
The problem turned out to be the outcome of the 30 Dec vote. It was so one-sided that even the celebrations needed to be muted to an extent with instructions from the top. With only seven seats for the non-ally opposition out of the 300 at stake, one former friend of Hasina called it the worst ever exercise in the nation's electoral history. Bangladesh has obviously seen worse, under the military rulers. Many, old enough, would remember the referendums giving the two generals 98-plus percent of the "votes cast" while polling stations were mostly empty. Even likening her to Pakistan's notorious military ruler Ayub Khan, who had to quit in 1969 three months after celebrating "the decade of development" was a bit too far-fetched. The daughter of Bangladesh's founding father is different and a great fighter.
In September 2019, she will mark her 72nd birthday, officially at least, and could be quietly eyeing a likely successor who she could handhold to take the baton some day. But, one is certain, not until she finishes her third consecutive term as head of government, and fourth overall.
The year gone by has been reviewed in various forms by The New York Times-chosen writers or celebrities. There are high-quality previews to the new year too. For us, in Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina led the news headlines throughout 2018. The 12 months that follow are unlikely to be different.