Thursday, December 14, 2006

Awami League, allies may boycott Bangladesh elections

M RAMA RAO

Major parties barring the BNP in Bangladesh may boycott the elections slated for January 23. Though the Awami League has not yet firmed up its position, the thrust of discussions at its presidium meetings is in favour of poll boycott. Only a very insignificant minority in Awami League is advocating participation in the elections. The Awami League and its 14-party alliance are also firming up an all out campaign to force President Prof Iajuddin Ahmed to step down as caretaker government' head.

Former President Gen Ershad's Jatiya Party and the newly formed LDP of another former president Prof AQM Badruddoza are in agreement with Sheikh Hasina, the Awami League leader, on these two demands. BNP leaders continue to gravitate towards the LDP and this indicates that Khaleda Zia is increasingly seen as a liability at poll time by her colleagues. What this means is that the BNP will not disappear but it will find itself decimated at the hasting.

One Man Show
Interest as of now is centered on Iajuddin Ahmed, the soil sciences professor of Dhaka university, who was pitch forked into the Bangabhaban (Presidential Palace) President by BNP three years back. His rule has become a one man show. He is determined to ignore the AL protests and push his way ahead like a bull in a china shop.

Four of his ten advisors have resigned protesting against style of functioning in general and his ignoring their recommendation to revamp the poll body in particular. Instead of persuading them – all the four are known for their integrity and ability, he Tuesday picked up four new advisors - Maj. Gen (retd.) Ruhul Alam Chowdhury, Prof M Moinuddin Khan, Shafiqul Haque Choudhury and Dr Shoeb Ahmed. Prof Moinuddin belonged to the pro-BNP teachers' forum of the Dhaka University. Dr Shoeb, secretary to agriculture till recently is known for his BNP leanings. No surprise therefore while the Awami League-led 14-party combines did not accept the new appointments; the BNP-led four-party alliance welcomed the new advisers.

Few Minorities In Voters List
Another area of concern is the cold shoulder the Hindu minorities have got from the authorities entrusted with the task of preparing the electoral rolls. A reality check of the rolls by The Daily Star daily correspondents showed that several thousand members of the minority communities were not included in the updated voter list. They may not be enrolled despite their efforts to get enrolled even at this stage 'due to acute shortage of voter registration forms'.

The Dinajpur chapter of the Human Rights Congress for Bangladesh Minorities, for instance, said the town has 2.25 lakh minorities. Of them 1.5 lakh are eligible voters but around 70 thousand of them are denied their voting right; their names do not find a place in the electoral rolls.

The rolls contain several of names of under aged students of madrasas. This is true of capital Dhaka even. Mohammadpur area is one such area, the Daily Star reports. The daily's correspondents visited Jamiya Rahmania Arabia Madrassa at Mohammadpur and found that a student of class VII was included in the updated list. A teacher of the madrassa, Nazrul Islam, said more than 800 of the 1,500 students and teachers are on the updated list.

Some observers see a BNP-Jamaat design in the exclusion of minority voters from the rolls. This is bound to bring in more protestors against the President on to the streets of Dhaka.

Already academics, women's groups and several professional bodies have stepped up their campaign for resignation of Iajuddin Ahmed from the additional responsibility he has taken up last month as the chief adviser to the caretaker government.

Peshajibi Nari Samaj, an alliance of women in various professions, has held an impressive rally at the Central Shaheed Minar in Dhaka on Tuesday demanding Iajuddin scalp and reconstitution of the Election Commission.

Dhaka University Teachers' Association (DUTA) has also gone public with their criticism of their fellow academic in Bangabhaban. He should hand over charge to non-partisan Chief Advisor, DUTA said in a statement.

"Being his former colleagues, we are ashamed of his role as president and chief adviser as well", the DUTA statement said and remarked that the way he is taking decisions favouring a particular political party is 'frustrating for teachers' community'. #

M Rama Rao in New Delhi, India and this article was first published in AsianTribune.com, 14 December 2006