Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Govt lacks Moral Authority To Pursue Corruption Case Against Opposition

THE case filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission on Monday against the leader of the opposition in parliament, Khaleda Zia, on the charge of buying a piece of land for a charity named after her late husband with undisclosed money appears to be more an exercise in political arm-twisting than an effort to combat corruption establish the rule of law. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Tuesday, in the case—the first against the former prime minister since the Awami League-Jatiya Party government assumed office in January 2009—the commission has accused Khaleda Zia of criminal misconduct and abuse of power in respect of the purchase of a 42-katha land in the capital Dhaka in January 2005. If proved guilty, she may be sentenced to seven years in prison.

The case against Khaleda Zia is hardly surprising, though. The government may seek to brandish the case as a manifestation of its seriousness and sincerity towards realising its electoral pledge to establish the rule of law and to combat corruption; however, it would find it difficult to convince even its own people. After all, almost into its third year in office, the incumbents have thus far hardly set any such precedents. On the contrary, many of its actions tend to betray its disregard for the rule of law and suggest that it gives precedence to partisanship above all else. The review and withdrawal of the so-called politically motivated cases provides an obvious example, with the relevant governmental committee mostly reviewing and recommending withdrawal of cases filed against leaders and activists of the ruling alliance. Incidentally, a case filed against the prime minister on charges of irregularities in a charity named after her late father was also withdrawn. Meanwhile, most of the so-called politically motivated cases against opposition leaders and activists were kept in place.

Moreover, more and more opposition leaders and activists are implicated in more and more cases. Besides, the government has had individuals convicted of murder granted presidential clemency, apparently in consideration of their affiliation with the ruling Awami League.

In such circumstances, the corruption case filed against Khaleda Zia or, for that matter, the money laundering charges against Tarique Rahman is highly likely to be interpreted as an arm-twisting tactic employed by the government to make the opposition fall in line. Naturally, the opposition would be antagonised further and a peaceful resolution to the prevailing political standoff could become even more remote than it already is.

That is not to suggest, however, that the charges against Khaleda Zia should be dropped, to facilitate an end to the impasse. On the contrary, the opposition leader should face up to the charges brought against her in a competent court of law and secure acquittal, which would not only make her innocent in the eyes of not only the law but also the people. Meanwhile, if the government sincerely wants to prove its commitment to the rule of law and the fight against corruption, it should stop review and withdrawal of the so-called politically motivated case on the one hand and revive the cases already reviewed and withdrawn so that the leaders and activists of the ruling alliance could come out clean, in reality and in the perception of the people. Otherwise, it will have hardly any moral authority to even accuse, let alone try, Khaleda Zia of corruption.