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Monday, August 26, 2013

ELECTION IN BANGLADESH


On Pre-Election Scenario in Bangladesh

Gautam Das

THOUGH Bangladesh is to go in for the tenth parliamentary elections within a few months from now, a certain amount of uncertainty prevails about whether or how they would be held at all. The incumbent Awami League government led by Sheikh Hasina Wajid recently passed the 15th amendment to the Bangladesh constitution, abolishing the caretaker government system to hold parliamentary elections.

STALEMATE CONTINUES

While the system to have a caretaker government was introduced in 1996, the Supreme Court of Bangladesh delivered a landmark judgement in 2011 ruling that this unelected caretaker system was unconstitutional. The Sheikh Hasina led government then piloted the 15th constitution amendment as per the Supreme Court judgement. But the 18-party alliance led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jama’at-Islami (JI) is agitating for re-introduction of the caretaker government system for conducting the next parliamentary elections. For the last one year, the BNP and its allies have called for general strikes and hartals in support of their demand, paralysing normal life. Now that the term of the present parliament is to come to an end within a few months, the BNP led alliance is out to step up its agitation. BNP chairperson, Mrs Khaleda Zia, had declared that they would paralyse the functioning of the government by calling continuous hartals after the Eid festival.

On the other hand, the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has firmly declared that no unelected caretaker government would be installed in the country. Both inside and outside the parliament, she is reminding the experience of the last caretaker government. In the year 2007, it was an army-backed caretaker government that declared internal emergency in the country and arrested her, Khaleda Zia and a score of other political leaders. During the internal emergency, which continued for two years, all civil rights and liberties were taken away. The caretaker government tried to throw both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia out of the scene by forcing some so-called political ‘reforms.’ Sheikh Hasina is warning the people that any type of unelected caretaker government installed in future would not hold parliamentary elections at all.

The stalemate continues between the two main political parties on the caretaker government issue, and hence the uncertainty regarding the holding of parliamentary elections. Syed Ashraful- Islam, general secretary of ruling Awami League and minister in charge of rural development and local self-government, told this representative of People’s Democracy in the last week of July that they would stick to the 15th amendment to the constitution; that there is no question of going back to install an unelected caretaker government system to conduct the elections. On the other hand, Nazrul-Islam Khan, member of the BNP standing committee (its highest policy making body) told us that they would not participate in the parliamentary elections under the supervision of the present government, as they don’t believe this government could hold free, fair and neutral elections. Khan said they would force the government to concede the demand.

THE GAME OF THE BNP-JI COMBINE

Awami League general secretary Syed Ashraf differs. He said they believed in democracy and this they have proved by holding free and fair elections to local bodies and a parliamentary byelection. In almost all the city corporation elections Awami League lost to the BNP but the present government did not interfere in the election process, he added. To a question regarding the BNP’s stand, both Syed Ashraf and Awami League presidium member of Nuhul-Alam Lenin told us that they were hopeful of holding parliamentary elections in a way acceptable to all political parties.

Both the Awami League leaders accused the BNP-Jama’at led combine of trying to create lawlessness and anarchy in the country by indulging in widespread violent attacks upon religious minorities and their places of worship, general public, police and other security forces, government properties and establishments including railways and buses. The reason, they say, is that the Sheikh Hasina government is implementing its important election pledges to bring to trial the ring leaders of the 1971 massacre --- those who helped the Pakistani army in committing inhuman crimes against the people of Bangladesh through mass killing of tens of thousands of people and through rape and gang-rape of women. After two international war crime tribunals sentenced to death some of the top leaders of Jama’at-e-Islami and awarded life term to some others, the BNP-JI combine has stepped up its violent activities to stop the further trial of the accused persons.

Both the Awami League leaders also informed us that the BNP-Jama’at combine is trying to overthrow the elected government by undemocratic means. At the instance of BNP-JI leaders, another Islamic fundamentalist outfit, namely the Hifazat-e-Islam, tried to lay siege upon the capital city, Dhaka, by mobilising hundreds of thousands of Koumi Madrassa students from different parts of the country on May 5 last. The Awami League general secretary informed us that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had on May 2 last urged upon the main opposition party, the BNP, to have a dialogue so as to find a way to hold free and fair elections. But on May 4 Khaleda Zia openly declared that the Sheikh Hasina government would not find a way to flee from her office; she was evidently referring to the attempted Dhaka siege programme of Hifazat-e-Islam the next day. On May 5 evening, when the police and paramilitary forces started clearing the road blockade, Khaleda Zia asked the residents of Dhaka city to lend their all out support to the Hifazat-e-Islam. Several hundred croretakas were reportedly paid by Jama’at leaders to the Hifazat to siege the Dhaka city; this was a part of their conspiracy to topple the government, the Awami League leaders alleged.

The pre-election situation in the country is fast changing. In the last one and a half years the ruling Awami League has lost several important elections. They lost Chittagong, Comilla, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Barishal, Khulna and Gazipur city corporations to the opposition BNP. They also lost Habiganj parliamentary constituency in the byelection. These results are a clear indication of erosion of the ruling party’s support base. On the other hand, BNP and its allies are in an upbeat mood. Mirza Fakhrul-Islam Alamgir, acting general secretary of the BNP, told the press that there was no chance of Awami League winning the parliamentary elections; that’s why the ruling party was trying to hold elections under its supervision.

ALARMING SITUATION

Some eminent journalists and university teachers of Dhaka have referred to the communal propaganda by the BNP-JI combine, in which the Jama’at-e-Islami and Hifazat-e-Islam are misusing the mosques. They also said the corruption of the ruling party leaders and cadres including some of the ministers, share market scams and mishandling of the Gramin Bank issue are the main cause of defeat of the ruling party in the recent elections.

Rashid Khan Menon, president of Workers Party of Bangladesh (WPB) and a member of parliament, told us that the situation is very alarming as Muslim consolidation is taking place against the government and the Awami League led 14-party alliance. That’s why the Workers Party has urged upon all the pro-liberation forces, all the Left, progressive, democratic and secular forces to get united to fight back the anti-liberation communal forces and their allies. A Workers Party delegation already met leaders of the Communist Party of Bangladesh (CPB) and Awami League.

CPB president Mujahidul Islam Selim told us that they were not in agreement with the Workers Party. He said the people are fed up with both the Awami League and the BNP, and they want a third alternative. They are trying to forge an alliance with other parties and groups not aligned with the Awami League or the BNP. To the question how they are hopeful about getting people’s support without an organisation, the CPB president replied that in 1954 A K Fazlul-Haque got huge support and formed a government in the then East Pakistan. He said the CPB is at present working jointly with a faction of the Bangladesh Socialist Party. This is something like the SUCI in our country.

On the question of maintaining its alliance with the Jama’at-e-Islami, a branded war criminal gang, BNP standing committee member Nazrul-Islam Khan and former BNP parliament member Afzal H Khan told us that most of the top JI leaders are in jail now and that the BNP could not desert them in their ‘distressful time.’

The Awami League’s Syed Ashraful-Islam and Nuhul-Alam Lenin expressed deep concern about the current situation. They admitted that the morale of their supporters had got affected to an extent due to the defeat in the city corporation elections. They informed that they had detailed discussions with the Workers Party leadership, and that the Awami League would try to unite all the pro-liberation forces, secular and democratic parties, social groups and individuals to foil the attempt of the fundamentalist forces to grab state power. The two leaders opined that if these forces succeeded in their attempt, secular, progressive and democratic forces and the minorities of Bangladesh would be their first targets. Militant and terrorist groups would again rule the country and the present good Indo-Bangladesh friendly relations would be affected. They told us that their party leadership would meet and chalk out a detailed campaign programme after the Eid festival.

In the meanwhile, a full bench of the Supreme Court has, in its judgement delivered on August 1, held that the registration given by the Election Commission to the Jama’at-e-Islami Party was unconstitutional as its party constitution goes against the constitution of the country.

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