Friday, April 11, 2008

People’s representatives for people’s interests


A GOOD intention possesses completely, or in a high degree, if it serves the purpose for which it is intended. There can be a great deal of hope more than ever before in the ongoing battle against corruption and volatile political practices to keep Bangladesh alive if everyone practices good till the end.

According to the Chief of Army Staff in Bangladesh, General Moeen U Ahmed, the way army has discharged its responsibility in the past and is doing presently, is all for the good intention to see the honest and competent leadership come to power to govern the country. “As patriotic citizens, the army is extending round-the-clock cooperation to the caretaker government and certainly the army is not part of the government,” General Moeen reaffirmed army’s intentions, steps, and desires to the nation through the editors of national print and electronic media at the Army Headquarters on April 08, 2008.

The army chief further assured everyone along with the leaders of the different political parties that there would be no deviation from holding national poll as per roadmap by end-December and there would be nothing but democratic rule in Bangladesh. His remarks came just after while the detained former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her apprehension over holding of the general elections in time and restoration of democracy. Like her, on Monday, April 07, 2008, Jatiya Party chairman Hussein Muhammad Ershad also expressed the similar uncertainty at a press briefing at its Banani party office.

Bangladesh has a history of military takeovers. On December 16, 1971, Pakistani forces surrendered, and Bangladesh-- meaning "Bengal country"-- was born. Although the new country became a parliamentary democracy under a 1972 constitution with four basic principles nationalism, secularism, socialism, and democracy, but its democratic journey had been interrupted several times. Pakistan's history from 1947 to 1971 was marked by political instability and economic difficulties and was governed by martial law between 1958 and 1962, and again between 1969 and 1971. Apart between 1990 and 2006, the country was mostly administrated either by emergency or martial law.

Although the emergency rules have placed serious limits on civil and political rights, and have severely diluted constitutional protections of individual rights, but the recent ongoing state of emergency, which was triggered by weeks of pre-election opposition protests and violence on January 11, 2007, was welcomed by ordinary Bangladeshis, many of whom want a return to normalcy after the violent political standoff that has wracked the country. People were upset to see the same tainted politicians and their cronies who had been in and out of the government during the last sixteen years of our experiment with parliamentary democracy.

During the two months prior to the takeover by the caretaker government, the country had experienced unending riots and widespread demonstrations in which more than 60 people lost their lives, millions of dollars in property was damaged, and the economic activities in the country came to a squealing halt.

Like Chief Adviser Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, people believe the present role of the Bangladesh Army in maintenance of the country’s law and order in order to bring the nation back on the right track. Their relief and rehabilitation activities in the wake of two consecutive floods and cyclone Sidr last year or their logistic or technical support in the crucial work of voter listing and national identity cards are obviously praiseworthy. People believe like the army chief that army will neither follow Pakistan or Thailand or previous takeovers in Bangladesh in the maintenance of democracy, through transfer of power to the elected representatives and holding a free, fair and transparent election by December 2008.

Starting with 2,193 member team to monitor peace in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the first gulf war in 1991, Bangladesh Army started its peace keeping activities throughout the world. Following that, they participated different peace keeping activities under the United Nations Peace Support Operations. As of February 2008, Bangladesh remained the largest contributor with 11,200 troops in the UN Peacekeeping forces. In those mission, sometimes they worked to curb inter border terrorism or to clear illegal dwellings and establishments or they worked to restore democracy as they know how much it is important for a civilized society.

Like them, people also firmly believe that emergency can not be a permanent solution for any problem and civil society can not be run by commanded system. The recent remarks of former Chief Adviser and Chief Justice Habibur Rahman “that military involvement in politics and administration is likely to affect the country and the military equally adversely,” are very meaningful and logical. The US authority recently expressed the same political theory to the Bangladesh Ambassador in US Humayun Kabir, which has been proved globally.

The history of democratic governments, from the ancient republics of Greece and Rome to the modern states that have replaced earlier totalitarian governments, show that governing by committees, or legislative bodies, however never works in times, but at least it holds public opinions and debates over serious issues concerning general people. The army-backed non political government has failed to curb the price spiral, the sufferings of the people are intensifying day by day and people are leading inhuman life without food.

Failures of the past elected governments cannot be used as excuses to keep the democratic process suspended. People do believe that only “people’s representatives” can be a form in a civil society as they will be under constant watch and pressure and bound to look after the interests of the people. #

First published on April 10, 2008, New York

Ripan Kumar Biswas is a freelance writer based in New York.