Colombo, January 8: The landslide victory Sheikh Hasina had notched up in the recently-held 11th Bangladesh parliamentary elections, has enabled her to make bold experiments in appointing ministers.

For the first time in her stints as Prime Minister, Hasina has packed her Council of Ministers with newcomers. Twenty four of the 47 Ministers are first-timers. She has also appointed two technocrats.

Hasina has brought back three MPs who had previously served her cabinet but not in her second (or the previous) term. Two Ministers of State have now been promoted to cabinet status. Of the 19 Ministers of State, all but three are new and all the three Deputy Ministers are new.

The Council has a Hindu in the Cabinet and one more among the State Ministers. Sadhan Chandra Majumdar is Cabinet Minister of Food and Swapan Bhattacharya is State Minister of Local Government and Rural Development. There is a Buddhist too in the cabinet. There is a woman in all three categories.

Hasina has dropped 34 members of the previous Council of Ministers. The heavyweights who have been dropped include AMA Muhith (who was Finance Minister), Tofail Ahmed, Amir Hossain Amu, Matia Chowdhury, Mohammad Nasim, Shajahan Khan, AH Mahmood Ali, Rashed Khan Menon and Hasanul Haq Inu.

The Prime Minister has not taken any MP from her alliance partners, even though Jatiya Party leader and former President H.M.Ershad had publicly expressed a wish to be Deputy Prime Minister.

Asked if the leaving out of seniors and allies will lead to the weakening of Hasina’s government, observers in Bangladesh said that given the strength of the ruling Awami League and the resolute leadership of the Prime Minister, any opposition to her at this juncture will miserably fail to make an impact.

“At any rate, the Prime Minister has said that her yardstick will be performance. Therefore, if a minister does not perform, he or she will be dropped and new blood will be infused. Back benchers and allies will then get a chance,” an observer said.

As regards seniors, these will be used to build up the party Awami League, he said.

“ The party is as important as the government and it needs a mature leadership. It is the strength of the Awami League party structure as opposed to the weakness of the structure of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party which helped Hasina reap a huge harvest of votes,” the explained.

New Foreign Minister

A.K.Abdul Momen, is the new foreign minister. He is a Ph.D in Economics from Northeastern University in Boston US. He taught Economics and Business Administration at the same university and also the University of Massachusetts and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In 2009, he became Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative at the UN.

Dr.Dipu Moni, who was Foreign Minister in an earlier government, is now the Education Minister, the first woman to hold that portfolio in Bangladesh.

Political watchers in Bangladesh said that Hasina’s daring move to drop seniors (mostly around 75 years of age) and take in people in the 40-45 age group, stems from the confidence she had acquired from her electoral sweep.

Given the fact that the opposition is demoralized and in disarray (partly because of repression but mostly because of inherent weaknesses, like the lack of a credible leadership with a good track record), Hasina believes that this is time to take bold steps to give the country a functioning government run by young blood and not tired old leaders with outdated ideas and an outdated method of working.

Statistics show that Bangladesh is firmly on a development path with huge investments in infrastructure to boost both industry and agriculture. With an average growth rate of 6% over the last few years it is set to grow at 7.8% this year.

To enable fast tracked development, Hasina has attracted huge investments from both India and China. She has aligned Bangladesh with China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But she has done this without antagonizing India which feels threatened by the BRI in the neighborhood.

Hasina has won over India and kept Bangladesh free from religious fanaticism and Islamic terrorism by ruthlessly crushing terrorists. She has controlled the once flourishing illegal trade in drugs, albeit by means repugnant to human rights organizations.

Peace, enforced by questionable means at times, has ensured a climate for investment, development and job generation. Her election victory is very substantially attributed to the economic achievements of her government and the concrete promises she had made in her manifesto.