Friday, September 03, 2010

'Caretaker Parties' in intensive care


POLITICAL PARTIES that sprouted up during the tenure of military-installed interim government (2007-2008) have become sidelined since the Awami League government took office.

The parties that appeared to have become serious contenders at the national political stage faded away almost as soon as the larger players came into the scene in the warm-up to the national elections of Dec 2008.

The interim government's anti-corruption agenda, evidently targeted against political leaders, and the regime's bid to get the heads of the two main parties out of politics — what soon came to be dubbed as the 'minus two formula' — gave rise to formation of parties by quarters close to the military-controlled government and the then military chief, Gen Moeen Uddin Ahmed.

At different times during the nearly two-year state of emergency Syed Muhammad Ibrahim, a retired major general and decorated freedom fighter, formed the Bangladesh Kalyan Party, Moeen's relation and former BNP leader Ferdous Ahmed Quraishi floated the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP) and former Jatiya Party leader Sheikh Shawkat Hossain Nilu floated the National People's Party (NPP).

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus had also tried to float a political party, dubbed Nagorik Shakti, roughly meaning 'Citizens' Power', but gave up after a few briefings due to a lukewarm response.

These parties were active during the unconstitutional regime often flouting the state of emergency but seldom causing the ire of authorities quite unlike the mainstream parties.

The bar on political activities strictly imposed on the major parties seemed to become rather flexible and in fact non-existent when it came to the activities of these new parties.

The caretaker government, headed by former Bangladesh Bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed, was installed after the promulgation of state of emergency on January 11 in 2007, when the Awami League's resolve to boycott and prevent the national elections scheduled barely two weeks later were threatened with widespread violence and chaos.

The fact that the caretaker government headed by president Iajuddin Ahmed, a BNP crony, who also appointed himself the de facto prime minister of the caretaker regime, hardly helped matters either.

Quraishi announced formation of PDP on June 21, 2007. The party held different political programmes, including regular press briefings on Saturdays, during the state of emergency.

But other than a press conference on Wednesday, the party has not held any political programme after the Awami League-led government assumed office in Jan 2009.

In Wednesday's presser, Quraishi demanded the trial of the deposed military ruler Hussein Muhammad Ershad for usurping power in 1982.

Asked why the party was inactive, Quraishi said: "We've gone through major changes after the (last) general elections. We took time to observe the situation. Moreover, many of our members left the party after the elections."

He said the party was being reorganised and would become active after the Eid-ul-Fitr, which falls in mid-September.

Asked about the party's active nature during, or rather, despite the state of emergency, the PDP chief said: "We followed what other parties did at that time. Nothing more."

Gen Ibrahim floated the Kalyan Party on Dec 4, 2007. Very active at that time, the party has had no activities for a long time.

Ibrahim, however, claimed that the party did have activities and that they were at a social level and nothing too large to be noted.

He said their activities included distribution of winter clothes, organising founding anniversary programme and Iftar gatherings.

Asked why his party is less active, the Kalyan Party chief said: "There was no fear of the big elephants during emergency. But now the sheep are in great distress and in much fear of the big elephants."

He said politics could not be changed unless the voters were made aware of their rights and responsibilities.

Yunus sought people's opinions on February 11, 2007 about the formation of Nagorik Shakti. Two and a half months later, he publicly announced abandoning his political move in an open letter to the countrymen.

In the letter, he said: "I'm not getting the kind of support from people who can contribute to formation of a strong and bright alternative (to the present political parties)."

Nilu announced formation of National People's Party at a meeting at the Election Commission in 2007.

NPP, however, has not carried out any political programmes during the present government other than a recent roundtable.

He could not be contacted for comments since he was abroad.

Two major political parties — ruling Awami League and opposition BNP — do not see any significance of the parties founded during the caretaker government.

Awami League presidium member Obidul Kader said: "Some parties always emerge during emergency. But those without public support will eventually vanish."

He suggested exploring the public support base of the parties.

BNP standing committee member Nazrul Islam Khan said indicating the small parties as well as the ruling Awami League: "The people will decide about those who took undue benefit by manipulating the constitution and democracy as well as about those who claim caretaker government is the result of their movement." #

Syndicated by, September 2, 2010

Shamim Al Amin is correspondent