Nobel Laureate Launches New Political Party in Bangladesh

Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize as the creator of micro credit financing for the poor, formally announced Sunday that he will form a new political party, saying he has a mission to enter the political arena in his strife torn country.

“I will formally launch the party later this month and it will be named Nagarik Shakti (citizens’ power),” said Yunus, who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize

In Dhaka recently, the soft-spoken economist told Asia Sentinel he is mentally ready to “start politics from a new angle”. In his eyes the country’s politicians have destroyed democratic practice and corrupted the society.

“I know politics makes people controversial. But I am ready to take that risk if you think my involvement would help create a new political ambience,” Yunus said in Dhaka last week.

The controversy has already begun. “It is amusing that those who despise politicians are now trying to be politicians themselves,” Sheikh Hasina, chief of the Awami League and a former prime minister was quoted saying about Yunus in the New Age newspaper. “Why are you so interested in politics after criticizing politicians indiscriminately?”

“There is no way I can stay away from politics any longer. I am determined...and it does not matter who says what about me,” Yunus said Saturday in apparent react to Hasina and other political leaders.

A former minister under past premier Begum Haled Zima, Mounded Ahmed of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party was also wary: “He is welcome in politics. I wish him success, but personally I feel he would be better off if he didn’t make this venture,” Mounded was quoted saying on Sunday.

Elections were originally scheduled for 22 January but were postponed after a state of emergency was declared last month following months of rioting between rival political parties in which 45 people were killed and scores injured. The country has been torn by bitter political rivalries ever since it split away from Pakistan in 1971.

Yunus, whose Grameen Bank has raised the living standards of hundreds of thousand of poor women through micro credit financing, says his new Nagarik Shakti party can find a way through a decades old morass once parliamentary elections are finally called.

A former economics professor whose Peace Prize is a source of enormous national pride, asked people recently to “please write letters or call me to give your opinion. I am waiting for your response. If you say, go ahead, I will join politics and form a party.”

It remains to be seen if a man who made his reputation by loaning tiny amounts of money to desperately poor market vendors and peasants has the stomach for the sometimes terrifying world of politics in Bangladesh. It is a country that has been saddled by corruption and internecine fighting since rival political matriarchs – Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League, and Khaleda Zia, of the Bangladesh National Party ‑ wrested power from the dictator Hussain Mohammad Ershad in 1990. Their onetime partnership has degenerated into perhaps the bitterest feud in the democratic world.

The rivalry is blamed by many Bangladeshis for the country’s problems, which include a growing fundamentalist Islamic insurgency.

In an attempt to put the country back on an even keel, the caretaker military government has arrested a significant number of Bangladesh’s continually warring political classes on corruption charges, including members of the previous parliament, a move that so far has provoked popular support from a populace weary of the infighting.

Certainly, Yunus’s decision to form a new political party is a long shot. Fed-up Bangladeshis began asking him to enter politics after he and Grameen Bank were awarded the Peace Prize in October. He was reportedly proposed to head the caretaker government that has run the country while the opposing parties wrestled over election rules, but he rejected that idea.

“A good number of bushy eyebrows are permanently arched upward at the moment,” wrote an editorial in the Daily Star newspaper on Monday. “Crestfallen eminent citizens,” the editorial said “have begun to send well-meaning words of extreme caution to Nobel Laureate Dr. Yunus” because they feel “he would simply get soiled in the filth of politics and thereby tarnish his good image.”

Those cautioning Yunus, the editorial went on to say, worry that he will sully his reputation because “politics is but a realm where corrupt people grab power and loot the public coffers without shame or qualm.”

The paper finally urged Yunus forward on his crusade, however. “We must have a vision and a larger than life leader to implement it. There is an acute crisis of courageous leaders in the country at the moment. We have one in the personality of Dr. Yunus, so let us give him a chance. Let us dare to dream. Let him dare to implement our dream.”

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