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No solution in sight

by Mohammad Amjad Hossain

A police armoured vehicle passes by two burning cars which were set on fire by Jamaat-Shibir activists at Motijheel in Dhaka on December 13 in protest at the execution of Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla for crime against humanity. — New Age/Sanaul Haque A police armoured vehicle passes by two burning cars which were set on fire by Jamaat-Shibir activists at Motijheel in Dhaka on December 13 in protest at the execution of Jamaat leader Abdul Quader Molla for crime against humanity. — New Age/Sanaul Haque

NO SOLUTION is in sight as the political uncertainty deepens in Bangladesh. The impasse between the Awami League-led ruling alliance and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led opposition combine has persisted despite the mediation efforts by the United Nations and others. The UN secretary-general first expressed his concern over the political deadlock and the consequent social disorder; then wrote to the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, and urged them to reach a mutually agreed consensus through ‘constructive dialogue’ to hold a ‘non-violent’ election with participation of all parties; and finally sent the assistant secretary-general for political affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, to facilitate a dialogue between the feuding political camps. He did bring the bitter and bickering rivals across the table but the ensuing talks did not return desired results.
Fernandez-Taranco’s visit was preceded by that of the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs and followed by that of the British senior minister of state for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi. They, too, met the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, and urged them to avert violence and hold fair, neutral and inclusive election. Their exhortations do not seem to have made any impact on the reality on the ground, with little sign of a let-up in the ongoing political violence, which has so far left more than 100 people dead.
Meanwhile, the political deadlock has had a severe impact on the economy, especially the readymade garment industry, the major foreign exchange earner for Bangladesh, and the life and livelihood of people at large, especially those who live from hand to mouth. During a meeting in the auditorium of the Centre on Integrated Rural Development for Asia-Pacific, members of civil society called for an amicable resolution of the deadlock towards free, fair and neutral elections, without any interference from the government. A four-point of charter of demands was placed in the meeting that called for an immediate end to the destructive political programmes, creation of a level playing field for the forthcoming election through institution of an election-time, party-neutral government and initiation of a national-level review of constitution reforms involving all stakeholders. It is worth noting that Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed described the situation now as worse than what it was during the autocratic regime of HM Ershad.
A dialogue styled ‘Nation demands peace’ was moderated by former adviser to caretaker government, Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman. It was disclosed in the dialogue that Bangladesh is going to lose around $6 million in orders for garment products from global retailers because of the prevailing political uncertainty. Another former advisor to caretaker government, Ghulam Quader, former attorney general Hasan Ariff and constitutional expert Dr Shahdeen Malik were present in the dialogue.
Harassment of political opponents, including arrests without any cogent reason, seems to have become a habit for the government of Sheikh Hasina, especially since the opposition agitation began in the wake of the 15th amendment of the constitution, which scrapped the provision for election-time, party-neutral caretaker government. It is worth noting here that the revocation of the caretaker government provision was not beyond questions or controversies. In fact, the constitutionality of the entire process was questioned by many, particularly in view of the government’s claim that the verdict by the Supreme Court on the 13th amendment necessitated the changes in the constitution. Of course, the Supreme Court can interpret the constitution and the laws of the land but it is eminently arguable if it can dictate change in the constitution.
Moreover, while scrapping the provision for caretaker provision from the constitution, no sub-committee was appointed to study the provision to bring in the form of a bill. Not to speak of any effective discussion in parliament, no public opinion in the form of referendum was sought before changing the provision. Now, the prime minister insists that the forthcoming elections will be held according to the constitution, which is practically her government’s making. The amendment to the constitution does not seem to carry the popular mandate.
HM Ershad whose Jatiya Party won 27 seats in the ninth Jatiya Sangsad to become the second largest opposition party in parliament aligned with the Awami League towards formation of an alliance government in 2009. When he refused to participate in the forthcoming general elections in the present circumstances, Ershad was practically detained a few days ago while British senior minister of state was still in town. A number of prominent opposition lawmakers from the Bangladesh Nationalist Party have also been arrested in recent days, which makes the political climate calamitous.
The present political crisis in Bangladesh has arisen because neither Hasina nor Khaleda Zia is willing to budge an inch from their respective stands. The resultant standoff makes the lives of common people even more difficult, apart from economy that is suffering seriously. On top of the political crisis, the country is passing through another turmoil following the execution of Abdul Quader Molla, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami who had been convicted of war crimes during the war of liberation in 1971. At many places in the country there have been clashes between security police and activists of Jamaat and its student front Islami Chhatra Shibir, resulting in several deaths. It appears from the actions taken by Sheikh Hasina’s government that the Awami League would continue to rule the country ruthlessly in spite of the consequences. The people of Bangladesh seem to have become hostage to major political parties as the latter continue with their crude struggle for state power.
The government of Sheikh Hasina observed three days of national mourning for anti-apartheid and pro-democracy icon Nelson Mandela for three days from December 7. Mandela was in Bangladesh in March 1997 to join the jubilee celebrations of Bangladesh’s liberation from Pakistan. Therefore, it is quite logical to expect Sheikh Hasina to follow the legacy of Mandela to stop bloodbath in the country as Nelson Mandela did to bring reconciliation between black and white people and eschew revenge against the white regime in South Africa for his persecution for 27 years. Hasina needs to show magnanimity towards the opposition camp to stop bloodbath in the country and hold general election on the basis of consensus.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, a retired diplomat from Bangladesh and former president of the Nova Chapter of the prestigious Toastmasters International club, writes from Virginia.




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