Few eyebrows were raised when the Awami League emerged victorious in this month's elections, beating the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia and returning to power 21 years after being overthrown in a coup. But what caught even the most seasoned political analysts by surprise was the drubbing the fundamentalist Jamat-e-Islami took. Winning only three seats of the 300 it contested, the Jamat has been almost wiped out in the predominantly Muslim country. Not only has it won far fewer seats than in the 1991 election, which gave Jamat 18 MPs, its share of the popular vote fell significantly, from 12.13 per cent five years ago to 8.71 per cent this year. The outcome has not only demolished Jamat's pre-poll claims that it would do far better this time: it has left many analysts wondering what caused the debacle at a point when the fundamentalists are gaining ground in many Middle East countries, and even in secular India, where the Hindu fundamentalist Bharatya Janata Party emerged as the single largest party in the recent polls. Observers indicate several factors behind the party's disastrous performance. Firstly, in recent years politics in Bangladesh has become polarised between the two main parties - the League and the Bangladesh Nationalists. On religion, the two parties are seen as no less religious than the Jamat. Professor Serajul Islam Chowdhury, a leading commentator, said the two parties had been trying to undercut Jamat's claim of being the only upholder of Islam. Secondly, they said the Jamat had never enjoyed popular support because the people were basically moderates, who always shunned the radical brand of Islam. This was shown in the battle the people fought in 1971 against Islamic Pakistan to become a secular, independent nation. Explaining why Jamat did better in the 1991 election, columnist Abed Khan said it was chiefly because the Bangladesh Nationalist Party forged an unwritten alliance with the Jamat aimed at preventing the League's victory.