World Bulletin/News Desk
General strikes, locally known as "Hartal," have become one of the most commonly used political tools in Bangladesh – despite the huge financial losses they tend to inflict on local businesses and the national economy.
"Every day of a general strike costs $200 million, which is bad news for the whole economy in Bangladesh," Abdus Sabur Khan, president of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Anadolu Agency.
During a general strike, workplaces, courts, shopping malls, supermarkets and educational institutions – both private and public – close down.
According to the Bangladesh Shop Owners Association, some two million shops close their doors during general strikes.
Long-route buses and trucks – along with city traffic – grind to a halt, leading to the suspension of import and export activities.
According to the Dhaka Road Transport Association, nearly 350,000 buses, minibuses and trucks are grounded during general strikes.
"A general strike shuts down the whole country," Siddique Hossain, economics professor at North-South University, told AA.
"When such type of shutdown continues by interval of some days, the whole economy and GDP are seriously affected," he added.
Hossain went on to note that general strikes also tended to hamper the supply/demand equilibrium and consumption levels.
As a result, he explained, overall production falls and laborers suffer in the long run.
As many as 40 days of general strikes, called by the 18-party opposition alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), have been staged in Bangladesh since the beginning of 2013.
The last three-day general strike by the opposition ended on November 6.
This means that, this year alone, general strikes have cost the country roughly $8 billion.
The opposition, meanwhile, is calling for another three-day strike to begin next Monday.
In total, there have been 73 days of general strikes during the tenure of the incumbent government, which came to office in 2009.
In a 2005 report, the World Bank said that annual economic losses from general strikes were equivalent to nearly 5 percent of Bangladesh's GDP.
Observers say nearly 95 percent of the general strikes in Bangladesh are staged for political, not economic, reasons.
Since its 1971 independence from Pakistan, Bangladesh has been ruled alternately – expect for periods of military rule – by the Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) and the BNP.
The BAL won the first general election in 1973 before being overthrown in a military coup two years later.
After the restoration of democracy in 1991, BNP leader Khaleda Zia won elections to become Bangladesh's first female prime minister while the BAL remained in the opposition.
Five years later, the BAL won elections, with the BNP taking its turn in the opposition until winning general elections in 2001.
The BAL then remained in the opposition until 2009, when it won the last general election.
During the years it spent in opposition, the BAL staged 201 days of general strikes, according to a study by the Center for Policy Dialogue, a leading socio-economic research institute.
The BNP, for its part, organized 85 days of general strikes while in the opposition, according to the same study.
"Economic losses because of general strikes are irrecoverable," Kaji Akram Uddin Ahmad, president of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry, told AA.
He criticized the use of general strikes for political purposes.
"As business leaders of the country, we have met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia to save the country's economy, avoid such types of shutdown and mitigate the political deadlock through dialogue," said Ahmed.
Professor Hossain, for his part, while stressing that everybody enjoyed the right to protest against government decisions, asserted that protests must nevertheless be conducted within the framework of the law.
"The economy of Bangladesh is heading towards political turmoil it's very tough to maintain economic activities in the destructive-type program as [a] general strike," Khondaker Golam Moazzem, assistant research director at the Center for Policy Dialogue, told AA.
He asserted that all other economic activities, including distribution networks, were adversely affected during general strikes.
"If this trend continues, there will be negative effects [on] production and investments," Moazzem said.
He underlined the need for compromise through dialogue between the country's two main political rivals.
"General strikes have a significant adverse impact on such sectors as transportation and the retail industry," Lutfur Rahman, a small businessman, told AA.
"The general public and businessmen don't want any shutdowns in the name of general strikes," he added.
On Thursday, Bangladesh Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir announced that legislation would be drafted aimed at curbing "sabotage" during general strikes.
He averred that recent general strikes staged by the opposition had no moral justification.
Bangladesh's 18-party opposition coalition, meanwhile, is pressing for the formation of a non-partisan caretaker government to supervise upcoming general elections.
Prime Minister Hasina, for her part, has rejected the proposal, saying she is only willing to accept an all-party poll-time interim government.
Under the country's recently amended constitution, elections must be held 90 days before the outgoing parliament ends its tenure on January 24.Last Mod: 09 Kasım 2013, 09:31