Monday, May 21, 2007

Interim Government’s Crusade Against Family Politics

Dr. ABDUL MOMEN

THE current interim government of Bangladesh especially its Law Advisor would like to eliminate 'family politics' from Bangladesh. He has launched a crusade. This means, government would prohibit any close relatives of any political leader to run for or even hold any public office. Such family politics is considered bad to many as Sheikh Hasina, former Prime Minister and the leader of the oldest and the largest grass root political party of Bangladesh, the Awami League (AL) happened to be the daughter of Bangladesh founder, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and Begum Khaleda Zia, the immediate past Prime Minister and the leader of the second largest party, the BNP happened to be the widower of Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman, who emerged as a ‘strong man’ and subsequently became President after a military coup in 1975. The situation, as per many became intolerable in recent years mainly due to excesses of Tareque Rahman, Arafat Rahman, sons of Khaleda Zia and Major (retd.) Sayeed Iskander, brother of Gen. Zia. In the AL camp, few close relatives of Sheikh Hasina such as Sheikh Selim, Sheikh Helaluddin, Amir Hossain Amu, and Hasnath Abdullah, all elected MPs had more access to Sheikh Hasina. They have been in politics since their school days and many of them are known in political circles as good organizers.

Although population wise Bangladesh is a big country and it has nearly 147 million, however, in the area of managing the government and enjoying benefits, only a few families get upper hand. It is not new either. Once when General Zia asked me about the size of Bangladesh population during his trip to Iran in 1977, I gave him two figures; one was 81 million and the other was 10 thousand. His then Finance Advisor Dr. M. N. Huda was surprised at it and wanted to know why did I mention two figures? I told him, 81 million to get foreign aid and assistance, and 10,000 are those for whom all resources are devoted and all rules and regulations are designed and made for their well being. Now due to garment factory owners /exporters, apartment builders and additional government employees that 10 thousand increased to, maybe, 100,000 or less. Nevertheless, only few families still run the show whether in a political or a technocratic government in Bangladesh. For example, currently, Chief Advisor Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed picked up few of his own relatives---his wife’s youngest brother Dr. Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury as his Foreign Advisor, his nephew's wife, Geteara Safiya as his Industry Advisor, and his batch mate and old friend, Dr. Mirza Azizul Islam as his Finance Advisor. But all of them are highly competent and therefore, 'family politics' is not necessarily bad. He picked them up as he can trust them and can have confidence on them. President Clinton, one of the most successful Presidents of the U. S. appointed most of his college mates as his secretaries as he had confidence in them.

Dr. ATM Shamsul Huda, current Chief Election Commissioner is the brother-in-law of our Education Advisor Ayub Quaderi. Does it mean Dr. Huda or Ayub Quaderi, one or the other, should not be allowed to hold office? No. If they are competent, let them hold the office to serve the community and the nation. Similarly, replacement of Dr. Iftekhar Chowdhury and Mrs. Geteara Safiya, grand daughter of our pride Dr. Mohammed Shahidullah would be a disservice.

Person who appears to be mostly vocal against 'family politics' is our Law Advisor Mainul Hossein. Reportedly he wanted to have the AL nomination in the last election for his 2nd son against the seat of his estranged brother Anwar Hossain Monzu, former Minister. They both are known primarily because of their great father, Toffazal Hossain Manik Mia, editor of the daily Ittefaq. Major (retd.) Sayeed Iskander's wife is the sister of the wife of Maj. Gen. Masud, the 9th Div commander. General Masud is also the current Chief Coordinator of Anti-Corruption cases. Does it mean that Gen. Masud cannot hold office as his relatives, Major (retd.) Sayeed Iskander, Tarique Zia or Arafat Zia are being investigated for corruption? In mature economies, where there is possibility of questions of partisanship, in such cases, the official involved generally withdraw from handling such cases to maintain neutrality and ethics. However, such does not disqualify them from holding the public office.

Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed's two close relatives basically his wife's elder brothers, Faruque Ahmed Chowdhury is the AL Adviser and the other brother Enam Ahmed Chowdhury is the BNP Adviser. Current Corruption Commission Chairman, Lt. Gen (Retd.) Mashud Chowdhury is also their relative. However, they are all highly qualified and competent and the nation needs their services. Therefore, such 'family politics' slogan ‘without any qualification’ could be politically cheap but may not serve the people's or nation's long term interest. Rather, such combination may reduce political polarization and rivalries that caused harm to the nation in the recent past.

Family politics is common especially in South Asia and even in mature democracies such as USA and India. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's daughter Benazir Bhutto was the Prime Minister of Pakistan and also the President of the PPP party due to her father, so is the case of Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi and in Sri Lanka, Sreemavo Bandaranayke or Kumarathanga. President Sukarno's daughter Sukarnoputri became President of Indonesia.

Even in USA such is not uncommon. Massachusetts is known as the ‘spirit of America’ and ‘conscience of the world’. This state is the pioneer of many progressive movements including the independence of USA in 1770s and its leaders and educators spearheaded the support for independence of Bangladesh in 1971 at a time when the U. S. administration was opposed to it. In such progressive state, family and ethnic politics is still very ripe. Former Mass Senate President William Bulger, a very powerful politician who recently retired as the Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts has never been prohibited to do politics although his older brother, James Whitey Bulger has been a notorious mobster and a fugitive over last many decades. His brother’s criminal record did not prohibit Bill Bulger to hold public office for years. The basic reason is ‘serving in public office’ is one’s basic civil and human rights irrespective of family ties. In fact, as per holy book the Quran, every individual, male or female, irrespective of his or her family ties would be independently treated on the Day of Judgment.

American democracy has matured over centuries. It’s not perfect but maybe better than that of others. Yet it has ‘family politics’. The 41st President George H. W. Bush's son 43rd President George W. Bush who is messing up the world is second such case in USA since John and Quincy Adams, father and son who were the 2nd and the 6th Presidents of the U. S. If President Bush, the 43rd would not have been so unpopular, his brother Governor Jeb Bush could have been a Presidential candidate now. Least we forget the great Kennedy clan --- a family that has been leading the politics of the U. S. and the free world for last many decades. They are the mouth piece and hope of millions of people primarily the deprived and the have-nots across the globe. Undoubtedly, they are competent, sacrificing and dynamic. They have the courage and vision and they can face any challenge in spite of their family misfortunes one after another. If they would have been deprived on the basis of 'family politics', their constituents and the greater world would have been a net loser. Currently, Hillary Rodham Clinton is getting lot of support for her husband President Bill Clinton---- the New Yorkers are happy to have her as their State Senator and millions of Americans are pleased to have her as their leader. Under Barrister Mainul Hossein's formula, she would have been disqualified to run for office and her constituents would have lost her commendable services. Therefore, Advisor Mainul Hossein's crusade or jihad should have been against 'incompetent people' not necessarily against 'family politics'. Question is; will Mainul Hossein disqualify Barrister Anisul Islam Mahmud, former Foreign Minister to hold public office only because he is his beyei, his son’s father-in-law? We hope not. #

Dr. Abdul Momen, a professor of economics and business management, Boston, USA

This article was contributed on May 19, 2007