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HEADLINES

Country under acute political crisis

Country under acute political crisis

Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury

Nobel winning Dr. Muhammed Yunus advised him to be ‘strict’. Possibly such bad suggestions from a renowned personality did leave lots of impacts in the mind of Chief Advisor of the Caretaker government, Professor Dr. Iajuddin Ahmed. At least he is behaving to be strict in a sense to slip from his neutral position to a very partisan role to serve the purpose of the party, which selected this ‘ancient’ professor to become the President of the country. Under any argument, we can now conclude saying that, the present caretaker government is run and controlled by certain unseen elements from somewhere definitely not within the walls of Presidential Palace or Chief Advisor’s office. The entire nation was shocked, stunned, surprised with raised eyes borrows when on Monday evening, the President cum Chief Advisor decided to promote his press secretary to the rank of an advisor with the status of a state minister. A major section of Dhaka’s press was critical on appointment of Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury as President’s press secretary, whose journalistic career began inside the party newspaper of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), got ‘nourished’ there, and finally he was shifted from party’s newspaper office to Presidential Palace, for reasons quite understandable to conscious people in Bangladesh.

Before we elaborate the details about the recent activities of the Chief Advisor, let us have a look into an article titled ‘Campaign of Violence’ published in prestigious magazine The Economist, which says, “Rarely in the rudest of health, Bangladesh's democratic institutions are looking in worse shape than ever. The five-year term of a coalition between the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamist allies expired on October 27th. A dysfunctional parliament was dissolved and a partisan president, Iajuddin Ahmed, has had himself sworn in as head of an unelected interim government, to oversee elections due in January. But it is still far from certain that the more than 90m voters will actually be given the chance to choose a new government.

Mr Ahmed, previously only titular head of state, is now the president of the republic, home, defence and foreign ministers, commander-in-chief of the armed forces and his own adviser. This apparently unconstitutional concentration of power, combined with Mr Ahmed's poor health, is a recipe for instability. No legal challenge will pass the country's highly politicised judiciary. And the election commission, supposed to ensure free and fair elections, is full of appointees with cringe-making records of partiality.

In Dhaka these days the most common piece of equipment on the desks of politicians, academics and journalists is a copy of the country's constitution. But it may prove irrelevant. The country endured long periods of military dictatorship after independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Another coup seemed likely by October 29th. By then some two dozen people had already been killed, some in deliberate assassinations, and hundreds injured in clashes between the BNP and supporters of the Awami League, the main opposition. The League objected to the man who under the constitution should have led the interim government, a retired chief justice with past BNP links, K.M. Hasan. After the protests, he refused the job.

The outgoing administration, led by Khaleda Zia, the prime minister, had reportedly drafted declarations for the deployment of the army and the promulgation of a state of emergency. But the army is split along party lines and anxious not to sully its reputation (it makes a lucrative contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations). So it refused to intervene, and on the evening of October 29th the president was sworn in as “chief adviser” in the presence of Mrs Zia, military dignitaries and foreign diplomats. The League boycotted the oath-taking ceremony, provoking fears of continued violence.

Alarmed at the possibility of a military takeover, however, the League called off its protests. For once, pragmatism won. Sheikh Hasina lost 16 family members, including her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a former prime minister, in a military coup in 1975. Moreover, the violence was damaging the opposition's standing, and, since its electoral chances remain bright, the League is keen to go to the polls. Since the restoration of democracy in 1991, anti-incumbency has been the rule in Bangladeshi election results.

But the truce may be short-lived. The League has given the president a deadline of November 3rd to “prove his neutrality”. It wants a reconstituted election commission, a revised voter list and a thorough purge of the civil service and police. On November 1st the League did not raise objections to the president's choice of “advisers”, who will run the interim administration until the elections. It was further appeased by a shuffle of senior civil servants, and the sacking of the chief of the country's controversial and trigger-happy paramilitary force. But the League fears that unless the election commissioners are replaced by neutrals the BNP may yet manage to rig the elections.

One thing that will boost the League's chances is that the BNP has split. A new political force, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), led by Badruddozza Chowdhury, a former president, and Oli Ahmed, a senior BNP leader, is campaigning on an anti-corruption platform. Hossain Zillur Rahman, a Dhaka-based political commentator, argues that the new party is unlikely to challenge the dominance of the two big mainstream parties. But he says the LDP will be an important voice in Bangladeshi politics.

The LDP says it wants to create a new kind of politics. But it is also in part the product of a personal vendetta by its founders against the BNP, and especially the young leaders surrounding Mrs Zia's son, Tarique Rahman. In the popular mind, this clique is seen as comprising the real power in the land in recent years, and one reason why Bangladesh scores so badly in global corruption rankings. The stakes for the LDP are high. At least four BNP defectors to the new party have seen their houses burned down in a campaign of intimidation.

Bangladesh's polluted mainstream politics has left the country's institutions weak and made fair elections difficult. The system of caretaker governments was introduced in 1996, to safeguard democracy from the winner-takes-all instincts of the two big parties. Now, however, that very system has become part of the threat.

Most foreign concern about Bangladesh in recent years has focused on the spread of violent Islamic extremism, on the fringes of what is still a largely tolerant and moderate Muslim country. The fear recent events inspire is of a breakdown of the fragile secular political order, leading to a messy deadlock or military intervention, and a field-day for the radicals.

Certainly there is a message in the article. According to it, there is a strong chance of military intervention in Bangladesh. And, we have no reason to disagree with it. From November 12th Bangladesh is virtually under absolute seize. Awami League led 14-Party alliance has announced indefinite seizes and road blockades to press their demand for holding next general election under neutral, free and fair atmosphere. But, if we simply have a glimpse over the entire administrative setup in this country, we can simply predict, a neutral election is quite a wild dream. The Chief Advisor very much belongs to a particular political quarter. On the other hand, the Election Commission has already become seriously controversial. Even the advisors of the caretaker government are not above controversy. Excluding former army Chief Hassan Mashoud Chowdhury and eminent journalist Mahbubul Alam, the remaining nine advisors are simply partisan figures. And, no doubt, the latest inclusion Mukhlesur Rahman Chowdhury is even a well known BNP pal. When local journalists asked advisor Dr. Akbar Ali Khan to comment about the ‘promotion’ of this controversial man into the rank of a state minister, he said, they have no right to comment on the decision of the president. So, it is well understood that, by virtue of his exclusive authorities, President Iajuddin Ahmed has turned into a neo autocrat. He has even gone above all questions, which possibly is not a very good sign for country’s democracy. According to political analysts, Awami League has no other option but to continue their democratic demonstration to ensure an atmosphere of free and fair election in Bangladesh. On the other hand, the caretaker government has virtually lost its credibility and neutrality. Country’s economy is in extreme danger. According to leaders of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), the apex body of country’s readymade garment exporters, which contributes 86 percent of Bangladesh’s total foreign exchange income, foreign buyers have already turned worried about timely delivery of their goods. According to them, the sector will simply get screwed if the political crisis could not be resolved immediately. They said, if this sector collapses, more that two million workers will become jobless. It was also learnt that, just during these crisis days, quite a number of readymade garment factories were forced to shut down because of severe economic crisis. BGMEA leaders further said, factory owners are now forced to ship their consignment via air route, as the sea port remains closed, which will ultimately lead many more entrepreneurs to virtual bankruptcy.

Peace-loving people of Bangladesh are simply waiting for the magic stick, which could only transform these sufferings into peace. But, under the present realities, political resolution to it is simply impossible. The only option, although not yet openly expressed by many is intervention of a third force. Although majority of the people are arguing that, now it is important to establish peace for the sake of 150 million people of Bangladesh instead of wild persuasions of the politicians to continue democratic process. To the people, peace is priority and democracy is secondary. Moreover, in past fifteen years of democracy, Bangladesh unfortunately witnessed looting of public wealth by corrupt politicians and politically blessed people. Many people are just ready to say ‘enough’ to mud throwing of politicians under the excuse of democratic right.
Posted on 15 Nov 2006 by Root
 
 
 
 
 


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