Friday, March 02, 2007

Arrange polls, before gets tangled in controversy


Most of the editorial of the national news media in Bangladesh reflected the present interim government’s intention to hold the 9th general election. All of them quoted recent speech of the Chief Adviser of the government in where Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed once again declined to fix any specific time frame for the next parliament election in Bangladesh.

In an exchange of opinion meeting at Chittagong with various professionals and the city elite on February 27, 2007, the former high profile banker informed everyone that the government is determined to hold election as soon as possible after necessary reforms.

Headed by a widely respected former central bank governor, the new interim government has declined to fix a date for the postponed election. Instead, it has introduced an ambitious package of political and other reforms that call into question just how long it intends to stay in power.

Bangladeshis seem prepared to give the military-backed government a chance. Even the mass arrests do not faze them; many privately voice support for the roundup of perceived troublemakers. Foreign governments, international organizations and even political parties in Bangladesh are now arguing with mild voice against the detentions of high profiled politicians, bureaucrats, business tycoons or even law enforcement officers.

Almost everyone liked the way of work of the present interim government and their war against three Ms-money, muscle and misuse of power. People became happy to see the reform of the Election Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Public Service Commission which are relatively responsible to hold a free and fair election. The presumed mandate of the interim government is to create an atmosphere to conduct contested and credible elections and prepare a level playing field for all political parties in Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, the noted banker Ahmed informed that the reconstructed EC will be the central point of all activities relating to the elections and the government will cooperate.

In addition, the newly appointed chief election commissioner and the election commissioners have undertaken the task of strengthening the Election Commission while the Anti-Corruption Commission and other government institutions including law enforcement agencies are working actively to ensure honest and competent persons' participation in election, which will yield good results in flourishing democracy.

He assured everyone by saying that the government has been working relentlessly to create a level playing field for holding free, fair and neutral elections.

The welcome return to stability, however, has somewhat obscured the basic question of when, or whether, election will be held and democratic rule will be restored in a nation that has experienced more than its share of military meddling. But the interim government didn’t mention any time frame, even tentative.

After autocrat regime of General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, Bangladesh smelled the fragrance of democracy in 1991. As recent experiments in democratization around the world show signs of achieving success, or failure, or more usually something in between, the country’s democracy promotion actors need more awareness to continue its democratic journey.

People mightn’t feel bad to see the intention of Bangladesh military to step in to end the political turmoil. So far, the army's intervention has been fairly low-key and behind the scenes and no tanks rolled in to the street. There are few soldiers on the streets and the maximum of the new government’s members are civilians. Although no senior military figure has put himself forward as the saviour of the country, the people of Bangladesh would have loss their patience to see the chief of army as a political speaker.

During the operation of emergency (that runs for 120 days under Article 141A), certain fundamental rights such as, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of speech and even press are restricted in certain areas. In this scenario, it will be difficult for the political parties to hold rallies and meetings.

However, the declaration of emergency in Bangladesh is also likely to provide some time to EC to update the voter list, a most wanted demand by everyone.

The incumbent Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the opposition Awami League, bitter rivals that rarely agree, have called for an election within three to four months. The Awami League on Wednesday, February 28, 2007 formally requested the Election Commission to set a date, preferably by June, if possible, to hold the ninth parliamentary polls while BNP and its allies will do the same request within a short time after some internal reform in the party. Both the party and their allies are hoping recent polls and they don’t want to be kept in suspense.

Nonetheless, the present interim government has a full support of general people of Bangladesh; timely election is also a popular desire. Election in Bangladesh should be held as soon as possible before even this caretaker government gets tangled in controversy. #

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York