The incredible nonchalance

BD garment Wage Protest 2509e

Seldom has a PM anywhere shown such “couldn’t care less” attitude towards an imminent political crisis

By Mahfuz Anam

AS citizens, as tax payers, as journalists we really cannot believe that there can exist leaders who can be so unbelievably indifferent to impending political crisis with all the potential of spilling over into violence, loss of property and lives. And all this is being done in the name of democracy. How democracy is strengthened by prospect of violence is something we fail to comprehend.
Sheikh Hasina is repeating herself hoarse that she will only hold the elections under the present constitution. This would have been a perfectly justifiable position but for the fact that she changed the constitution most recently to suit her own game plan.
It is a supreme irony that she did away with the caretaker government system (CTG), the very system that she literally pushed down the throat of the nation in the mid-nineties through nearly three years of relentless mass agitation and with nearly two hundred days of hartals. Having brought about the CTG system, she arbitrarily and without any consultation with her own members of parliament and constitutional experts, leave alone those from the opposition, changed it, using a Supreme Court judgement, that while declaring the CTG system illegal, yet permitted its use for the next two terms on the grounds of ‘safety of the people and safety of the nation.’
The PM keeps on repeating that the 15th Amendment was the result of a year long work of a constitution reform committee that she had set up. What she conveniently omits to say is that that very committee suggested retention of the CTG government in its draft recommendation submitted to the PM. In response to the draft Sheikh Hasina insisted that the committee reconsiders its recommendation and incorporate the proposal to do away with the CTG system. We have written about it in details and yet the PM keeps on repeating her narrative.
In post-facto justification of her action the PM argues that CTG provides for un-elected individuals to run our “republic” for 90 days which is against the fundamental spirit of our constitution and of democracy that insists — as it should — that we must always be governed by elected representatives of the people.
She is right. But the argument is as true now as it was true in 1994-96 period when she insisted that it be incorporated in our constitution. So one can be quite justified in suspecting that CTG is good when AL is in opposition but not good when in power. If BNP had won the elections in 2008 and it abolished the CTG system for the same reasons, would Sheikh Hasina and the AL have accepted it? We seriously doubt it.
PM’s other argument against CTG is that it provides a very weak link between two elected governments. CTG opens up possibilities of unelected governments to lengthen their stay in power as it happened in 2006-8 period.
She is again right. But that happened because of the activities of BNP and the AL during the pre-election period and also due to some lacunae in the existing provisions.
Those should and could have been corrected and the CTG system could have been made fool-proof. We also believe that if Khaleda Zia did not make President Iajuddin the Chief Advisor, and then try to remote control the CTG then the crisis could have been averted. So instead of correcting the faults she did away with the system. It was like cutting off the head to get rid of headaches.
Now let us look at the other side. Why did the CTG system become so popular and gain public support as it did. In a way it can be termed as Sheikh Hasina’s grand success that the idea she and her party promoted and made into law had become so successful and so popular that people of the country want it continued, including the opposition whose leader who once said: “Only a child or a mad person can be neutral.”
The reason for CTG’s success is that it responded to a very special need of our politics. That need was for a neutral governmental structure to oversee the elections held every five years. That need arose from a deep seated suspicion between the AL and the BNP. Neither side trusted the other to control the levers of government machinery during elections, lest it uses it to its own advantage.
That suspicion has increased over the years. So while our PM may repeat a million times that she will hold the freest and fairest of elections ever, if her opponents do not have confidence and if they do not want to participate in that process, the AL chief cannot ignore that position.
The onus of ensuring that the elections are held on a level playing field definitely rests with the government. This is especially so because the “level playing field” has been upset by Sheikh Hasina’s own constitution amendment.
There is no hiding away from the fact the PM, her government and her party have made no attempt so far to talk with the opposition. So far all saner elements within the country and all major international friends of Bangladesh have repeatedly urged Sheikh Hasina to initiate talks with the opposition. So far all such advice have fallen on deaf ears. The UN, no friend of the opposition, had sent two special missions both of which insisted on a dialogue. Chinese, who never express views on internal politics, have this time around, along with the EU, US and UK, publicly suggested that a dialogue with the opposition is good for the country.
We find it absolutely incomprehensible that the prime minister can be so very nonchalant about the impending political conflict that most concerned citizens seem to be predicting. Instead of trying to find a solution the PM is busy daring her opponents to prevent her from holding the elections, as if the technical holding of the elections is everything.
There appears little concern that if election is to reflect public opinion then it must be participated by all leading parties. Without BNP’s participation the election will lack credibility, and consequent acceptability.
Most importantly, holding a one-sided election will not give the country the peace and harmony that it so badly needs to move towards greater economic advancement.

The writer is Editor and Publisher of The Daily Star.

Source: The Daily Star

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