Monday, June 13, 2011

Prime Minister's Warning Against Extra - Constitutional Takeover

THE warning that the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, issued on Saturday for the leaders and activists of the ruling Awami League and its associate organisations ‘to remain alert so that no unconstitutional force can grab state power in the future’ deals with too serious an issue to be readily dismissed as partisan sabre-rattling, although the accompanied call for the opposition to ‘shun the politics of hartal and anarchism’ could suggest so. The reason is twofold: first, it is not the first time that the prime minister has warned of such a possibility—she sounded the warning even in parliament once— and second, the ‘unconstitutional force’ she talked of, given the history of unconstitutional takeovers in Bangladesh, inexorably points to the top brasses of the armed forces along with coteries of anti-political forces, both within the country and beyond. It is more so when the prime minister recently referred to the ‘1/11 situation’ when issuing the warning. Before we analyse the prime minister’s apprehensive statement, it is important to take note of the fact while takeover of power by the armed forces is unconstitutional, the armed forces as such are very much constitutional as they are created under specific constitutional provisions. Hasina’s frequent warnings of the possibility of an unconstitutional takeover in recent weeks and months tend to indicate that she may be in possession of credible information that some scheming is afoot in the armed forces. If so, as the prime minister, she needs to take immediate steps to have those involved in the scheme probed, prosecuted and punished. And, of course, she needs to share whatever intelligence she may have on such a plot with the people. The leader of the opposition in parliament, Khaleda Zia, also warned the people a few days ago of a January 11 , 2007- like unconstitutional intervention. We believe it is her duty, too, to share whatever information that she may have with the prime minister and do whatever she can in her capacity of the opposition leader to thwart such a possible danger. The prime minister’s repeated warnings in public of a potential unconstitutional takeover could also be construed as her lack of political control over the armed forces. If so, and especially since she is in charge of the defence ministry, to which the armed forces are supposedly answerable to, it naturally raises questions about her moral right to continue in power any more. If not, i.e. if she has political control over the armed forces, her warnings actually amount to denigration and demonisation of the armed forces as an institution in the eye of the public, which would morally weaken the national armed forces. This is, to us, unacceptable; while we are absolutely against takeover of power by the armed forces, we are for the existence of strong national armed forces that are committed to protecting the security of the state, and are trusted and respected by the people. It is true that the political process in Bangladesh has been set back by the military misadventures of some ambitious members of the top brass of the armed forces, time and again. As such, in the aftermath of the country’s recent brush with such military misadventure, politically conscious and democratically oriented sections of society and the media have clamoured for prosecution of, and punishment for, onstage and backstage players of the Moeen U Ahmed-led military-driven interim government of Fakhruddin Ahmed as a legal deterrent against extra- constitutional intervention. Regrettably, however, the AL-led ruling alliance has yet to initiate any move to try the architects and exponents of the illegal government. It is also true that anti-political forces have always used political instability and economic crisis as pretexts for usurpation of state power time and again. Suffice it to say that the prevailing political uncertainty has been touched off by the Awami League-Jatiya Party government through its abrupt decision to have the provision for election-time non-party caretaker regime scrapped from the constitution. As for the economic crisis, except for the diehard followers, supporters and sympathisers of the ruling alliance, everyone agrees that it is the result of the government’s imprudent policies and actions. Ultimately, therefore, if there is any threat of an attempt at unconstitutional takeover, as the prime minister says there is, it is the government that needs to remain alert on political and economic fronts and initiate actions to make sure such threats never materialises into reality. To ensure that, her government needs to immediately initiate the course corrections—both political and economic—and save the people as well as the armed forces from the menace of what she calls a possible unconstitutional takeover of power.