Bangladesh Nobel winner names new political party

Feb 2007
Bangladesh, February, 18 2007 - Bangladesh's Nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus on Sunday announced the name of his new political party, saying he felt compelled to enter politics.

"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 for his micro-finance scheme that earned him the nickname "banker to the poor".

Bangladeshis from all walks of life greeted Yunus's Nobel prize with joy and national pride but it was too early to say if he could translate his popularity into politics.

Last week, Yunus urged Bangladeshis in an open letter to give their opinion on whether he should get involved in politics and launch a party.

Yunus's associates said the response had been "enormously positive", but gave no figures.

Yunus said his party would contest the next parliamentary election, the date for which has yet to be set after being postponed from last month.

"We will immediately form committees in every village of the country to propagate the emerging venture and muster support for me in politics," Yunus told reporters at Dhaka airport on Sunday on his return from a visit to the port of Chittagong.

"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," said the Nobel laureate, apparently referring to adverse reactions from some political leaders.

Sheikh Hasina, chief of the Awami League and a former prime minister, said on Saturday that "sudden newcomers in politics are dangerous elements and are to be viewed with suspicion".

Moudud Ahmed, a senior leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and former law minister in the government of immediate past premier, Begum Khaleda Zia, was more cautious.

"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," Moudud said on Sunday.

The election, originally set for January 22, was postponed and a state of emergency declared last month in the wake of nationwide violence between rival political parties, in which 45 people were killed and hundreds injured.

Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since January 11, allowing the army-backed interim government headed by former central bank chief Fakhruddin Ahmed to work toward holding a trouble-free election.

Newly appointed Chief Election Commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda said at his first news conference on Sunday that tough electoral laws would be enacted soon to keep dishonest and corrupt people from contesting the polls.

He said the tasks in hand included preparing a flawless voters' list, issuing identity cards to voters and setting a time for the election.

"We have just started working on all these issues, which we are trying to address soon," Shamsul said without elaborating.

He said the army had offered to help the election commission to make the voter ID cards. "We are considering the proposal along with those of others," the election chief said.


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