Friday, May 16, 2008

His address, their agony, and country’s expectations

Pics: Military installed Chief Adviser Dr Fakruddin Ahmed reads his bosses mind


“THERE MAY be disputes, rivalry, and competition between government and political parties, but in eventual judgment, while we all are trying to launch a healthy and stable democratic process in the country and 150 million people’s expectation to stand before the comity of the world with national identity, flourished with the spirit of self-confidence, these are not our main features,” Chief Adviser of the present military-backed interim government of Bangladesh Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed hoped in an address to the nation over state-owned radio and television on May 12, 2008 regarding the planned dialogue beginning May 22 between government and political parties. Everybody should have to overcome all narrowness, vengeance, and mistrust in proceeding towards the end, he further added.

His government that took over the responsibility of the government on January 12, 2007 with ongoing state of emergency in the backdrop of inevitable changes, declared the date for political transition, possibly any day in the third week of December next, and planned to hold a dialogue between the government and political parties to bring qualitative improvement in political structure.

Total 19 political parties, including Awami League, Jatiya Party, Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh, Liberal Democratic Party, Unity for Political Reforms, Bangladesh Nationalist Party [mainstream], Islami Shasantantra Andolan, Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal, Khelafat Andolan, Khelafat Majlish and the splinter group of BNP (Bangladesh National Party), had been invited, according to the chief adviser’s spokesman, Syed Fahim Munaim. But various political parties and groups appear to be unhappy with the contents of address by the Chief Adviser (CA), saying they had found no reflection of people’s expectations in it.

In their criticism, several things were common, like lack of specific commitment on withdrawal of the state of emergency, allowing war criminals to participate in the elections, and government incompetence for the present food price hikes. Referring their five-point demand including immediate and unconditional release of party president and former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina enabling her to take part in the national dialogue, AL formally rejected his address, saying the CA failed to create trust among the people about the national dialogue in his speech while according to the BNP secretary general, Khandaker Delwar Hossain, CA completely ignored the party’s 18-point demand which includes release of party’s supremo and former Premier – Khaleda Zia.

Several others expressed their deep frustrations on ban on indoor politics across the country terming it more complicated as the political parties would have to inform the administration 48 hours before holding a meeting and require permission for a gathering of more than 200 people. CA’s proposed ‘national charter,’ a guideline to make strong relations among political parties, institutions, and communities across the country on the basis of consensus on relevant matters prior to the polls so qualitative changes are censured in government and political systems after the election, was not welcomed and brought confusion as according to the political parties, only the people’s elected parliament has the authority to formulate such things. In his comments, Communist Party general secretary Mujahidul Islam Selim opposed any such charter as the 1972 constitution is the only national charter in Bangladesh and he wanted to restore secular constitution.

CA described the much-talked-dialogue, which is scheduled to be placed at his office, is a trust-based initiative. While he assured that the government had no pre-fixed agenda and didn’t have any hostility against anyone, different political parties observed the address intensified the people’s confusion over elections and dialogues instead of dispelling such confusion. Government once again assured everyone including political parties to provide all-out support and cooperation based on the needs and demands from the Election Commission (EC). But political parties claimed that the state of emergency wouldn’t be lifted before the polls and there would be both direct and indirect influences on the polls by relaxing the state of emergency.

EC’s ongoing efforts to hold elections at local levels would not create any obstacle to attain the prime target — to hold national elections, CA promised. He explained that the polls at the local levels would able to create a positive flow towards greater national elections. If the government, which has no political ambitions, intends to hold local government polls before the national elections, it prompts people to raise questions about and doubt the attitude of the government, Jamaat-e-Islami Amir, Matiur Rahman Nizami opposed government’s intention. AL echoed the same, including BNP while it was announcing mass hunger strike in every district, upazila, and union on May 20 to press for releasing Hasina.

His address, political parties agony of doubt, and country’s sufferings are all for a sustainable democracy in the country. “Our all endeavours would turn into despair unless a healthy and stable democracy is introduced,” CA opined. Speakers at a roundtable meeting titled 'Exercise of democracy inside political parties' at the CIRDAP auditorium on May 14, 2008 also again discussed like many other times about what factors were the reasons behind 1/11 scenario either bureaucrats, professional bodies, businessmen, or political parties. Whoever, there was no mutual respects among political parties for each other as well as cordial and effective relationship among them.

For democracy is not only the right of every one to be equal, but also the equal right of every one to be different. Although, no major political parties exercise democracy, but democracy cannot be established through pressure or with mighty hands. Democracy recognizes not only the dictum of the majority, but also the need to respect the minority. The parliament does not hide its decisions, just as it is not ashamed to build bridges and suggest compromises, with the aim of defending the unity of the many and the dignity of the few.

The present world is very competitive and fast moving. The country is facing rising fuel prices and food shortages. A struggling economy and continued acrimonious and tense relations between the government and the businessmen have increased citizen's cynicism about any such reforms or proposals or even drive against corruptions. Therefore all political and administrative activities should be complementary to economic development to keep pace with the world economy as every day and every hour is very important to keep economic wheels moving on. The proponents of democracy generally regard economic freedom as a key element in any democratic society.

The entire election process should be free from black money, muscle power, administrative biases, nomination trade, and excessive expenses for poll campaigns to get a sustainable democratic society, therefore, to make inroads for honest, worthy, and dynamic leadership. To return to a stable democracy, both the government and political parties should reach consensus on all important issues so that everybody can participate in the elections.

There may be dispute between government and political parties, but as long as it’s a concern to strengthen democracy, ensure a corruption-free society, and guarantee an economically secure Bangladesh, the upcoming dialogue shouldn’t to be derailed with any other considerations. #

First published in New York, May 16, 2008

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