Thursday, June 9, 2011

Incumbents Search For Further Justification Inconsistent

THE prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, is apparently at pains to ‘justify’ what is essentially a unilateral decision to have the provision for election-time non-party caretaker government scrapped from the constitution. On Tuesday, according to a report front-paged in New Age on Wednesday, Hasina urged the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson, Khaleda Zia, not to rally for retention of the provision, keeping in mind the political crisis after January 11 and the activities of the military-controlled interim regime during its two-year tenure. ‘Your own people—Iajuddin Ahmed, Fakhruddin Ahmed and Moeen U Ahmed—were in power… they did not spare you, rather sent you to jail,’ she said. The change in approach was, in a way, inevitable after her previous line of argument—that the decision is in compliance with the Supreme Court verdict on the 13 th amendment to the constitution— had apparently failed to generate positive response even from the ruling Awami League’s traditional political allies. Needless to say, the attempt at justifying her decision to have the caretaker government provision repealed was a non- starter for at least two reasons. First, while the Supreme Court did declare the 13 th amendment void, it did suggest retention of the caretaker government provision for two more general elections. Second, the sudden eagerness of the prime minister to comply with the court’s verdict was dubious, to say the least; after all, her government has thus far failed to implement, or even ignored, a number of rulings by the highest judiciary. The verdict that declared the seventh amendment to the constitution void and unconstitutional is a case in point. Although the court was unequivocal in its assertion that Ershad was should not be ‘allowed to go scot-free after committing the most heinous felony of putting the constitution at abeyance for a few years to the grave predicament of the people,’ neither Hasina nor her government has thus far given any indication that the deposed dictator will be tried, ever. On the contrary, the prime minister is reported to have had confidential political meetings with the deposed general on the caretaker issue. On the other hand, her description of the military-controlled interim regime as Khaleda’s ‘own people’ sounds rather odd, especially in view of the fact that, immediately after the January 11 , 2007 changeover, Hasina not only termed the Fakhruddin regime the outcome of her party’s movement but also publicly promised ratification of all its activities if she returned to power. Moreover, her government has thus far refused to take the onstage and backstage players of the regime to account for their unconstitutional misadventure despite Khaleda’s repeated demands to do so. True, in the past, anti-political forces used political uncertainties and consequent social disorder as pretexts to carry out extra-legal and unconstitutional takeovers. True, the government of the BNP- led alliance was significantly responsible for creating the impasse that eventually led to the January 11 , 2007 takeover. However, it is also true that the prime minister may be heading in the same direction with her persistence on the caretaker government issue. If another setback to the existing political process were to take place, society may blame her for the catastrophe because she herself made the decision on repeal of the caretaker provision, rejecting the parliamentary special committee’s initial recommendation for retention of the provision in a modified form. As for fear of incarceration and harassment under an unconstitutional regime, the opposition seems to have very few reasons to be daunted; after all, even under an elected government, it is being prosecuted and persecuted at random charges. It follows then that the prime minister may be talking about the ruling alliance’s fear; after all, allegations are there that an influential section of the alliance has abused people’s mandate in many ways to further its own material interest. If so, she needs to realise that she can dispel such fear by choosing not to go alone on the issue of the caretaker government provision and, most importantly, push the country to the brink of yet another political crisis.