Muhammad Yunus, the 2006 Nobel Peace laureate known as the “banker to the poor”, is to form a political party to try to rescue Bangladesh from a political crisis that has raised the spectre of military rule.
The founder of Grameen Bank raised hopes for a new era of democratic rule in an open letter to the Bangladeshi people exactly a month after the army forced the President to cancel an election and impose a state of emergency.
A military-backed caretaker government took power on January 12, promising to clean up its notoriously corrupt politics and to organise elections as soon as possible, but it has yet to set a date, raising fears of a return to formal military rule in the world’s third-largest Muslim country.
Dr Yunus, 66, who won the Nobel prize for his work of granting small loans to very poor people, lives an austere life in Dhaka, wearing clothes made of a simple cotton cloth that he designed to help poor textile workers. He asked Bangladeshis to send him letters, e-mails and text messages advising him how to build a “Bangladesh we all dream of”.
He said: “The way the present caretaker Government is trying to create an acceptable atmosphere by carrying out necessary reforms has made me optimistic, along with all citizens of the country. In this situation, I feel it with my heart that I should, showing due respect to the people’s expectation of me, participate in the mission of taking the nation to the height it deserves . . . I know that joining politics is to become controversial. I am ready to take that risk.”
His announcement offered the first real prospect of a democratic alternative to the “battling begums” — the two women who have dominated Bangladeshi politics for the past 16 years.
(By Jerome Page)