Friday, July 1, 2011

Polls Must Be Held Under Caretaker Govt

The movement for the Caretaker Government system began in 1994. It was alleged by the opposition Awami League after the parliamentary by-polls at Mirpur and Magura that the then ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was involved in vote rigging which proved that fair election under any party government was not possible. Mention may be made here that the people experienced the first vote rigging in the first general election of Bangladesh on March 7 , 1973 when the ruling Awami League (AL) rigged election. Worker's Party of Bangladesh President Rashed Khan Menon, MP, now partner of AL-led grand alliance government, Major (retd.) Abdul Jalil, Dr. Alim-Al Rajee, Engineer Abdur Rashid, Shahjahan Siraj and Mostaque Ahmed Chowdhury were defeated in that election, as reported in a Bengali daily dated June 12 , 2007.         Jamaat's brainchild    Jamaat-e-Islam was the first to advance the concept of non-party Caretaker Government (CG) which was the brainchild of Prof. Golam Azam for holding free and fair election. AL under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina enthusiastically took it up as their political issue. Former state minister for Foreign Affairs in AL cabinet Abul Hasan Chowdhury while addressing the plenary session of the ministerial conference on "Towards a Community of Democracy" in Warsaw held in 2000 , claimed that Sheikh Hasina's doctrine of Caretaker Government is being practised in Bangladesh, as reported in the media.    AL in league with Jamaat-e-Islam (JI) and Jatiya Party (JP) started a vigorous nationwide movement to establish the CG. Sheikh Hasina held series of meetings with Jamaat leaders Abbas Ali Khan, Moulana Motiur Rahman Nizami, Ali Ahsan Mujahid at her Dhanmondi residence at Road number 32. At that time Jamaat leaders were not war criminals. They enforced seventy days' hartal and 26 days' of blockade and non- cooperation movement during 1994-1996. Of them one 96 hours continuous hartal, two 72 hours and five 48 hours besides dawn to dusk hartal were enforced, as published in a Bengali daily on June 11 , 2011. News report said hartal damaged properties worth Tk. 250 crore per day in those days. People were harassed in many ways. Even a government official was stripped off on the road near the Curzon Hall of the Dhaka University.    Sir Ninian Stephens, former Governor General of Australia, was invited to resolve political issue in 1995. He held a series of meetings with political leaders both of ruling and opposition parties to democratise the country but with no effect.         15 killed, 600 injured    The AL boycotted the parliament and forced the BNP through reign of violence like blockade, hartal, gherao, destruction of properties both public and private, killing, burning of vehicles, agitation etc. to amend the Constitution for incorporating CG system. The Fifth parliament was dissolved and the BNP arranged for general election. The opposition parties boycotted election. The 6 th parliament was elected on February 15 , 1996 with only BNP which was said to be the farcical one-party polls. On the day countrywide hartal left 15 persons killed and 600 persons injured, as reported in a Bengali newspaper on June 11 , 2011. Then a parliament was formed where the 13 th amendment to the Constitution was passed for incorporating the provision of the CG system on the very line demanded by AL. So, the 'farcical' one-party polls had to be held to pass the CG bill.    The opposition continued their reign of violence. Some bureaucrats joined the 'Janatar Mancha' organised by AL. By doing this these bureaucrats turned the government officials and employees into servants of a political party.    AL won the first election held on June 12 , 1996 under the CG system but was defeated in polls of 2001. After the defeat AL had put strong and undue pressure on President Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed to cancel the election results and to hold fresh election. But Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed did not bow to their undue demand and pressure.    Kamal Hossain, T H Khan, Rafique-ul Haque, M Zahir, Mahmudul Islam, Amir-Ul Islam, Roklanuddin Mahmud and Ajmalul Hossain as amici curiae opined in favour of the CG system, but only M I Faruki spoke against it. The Supreme Court repealed the 13 th Amendment to the constitution that introduced the caretaker government but said the next two general elections could be held under unelected rulers.     Considering the present political hostility and mistrust among political parties polls under the CG system should continue as per observation of the Supreme Court that two more general elections be held under the CG system. Otherwise polls under the party government will cause a reign of violence for which the common people will have to suffer. Polls must be held under the CG system to avoid political turmoil.

Oil - Gas Deal Infuriates The Allience Partners Too

Bangladesh government's deal with the US oil giant ConocoPhillips has provoked a hostile reaction amongst the opposition as well as the partners of the Awami League- led grand alliance.    Bangladesh workers' Party and Jatiya samajtantrit Dal - grand alliance partners with representation in the parliament - have openly criticised the government deal with the US oil giant ConocoPhillips. The Communist Party of Bangladesh ( CPB), also a close ally of the Awami League, has been criticising the deal, describing it as against the national interest and that it would also endanger the country's energy security.    The government on June 16 signed the production sharing contract (PSC) with ConocoPhillips for oil and gas exploration and extraction in deep sea hydrocarbon blocks 10 and 11 amid protests from experts, civic forums, and political organizations. The agreement gives ConocoPhillips the right to explore two offshore blocks, which lie in disputed waters in the Bay of Bengal, was approved by the cabinet earlier this month.    ConocoPhillips will search for oil and gas only in undisputed areas in blocks 10 and 11 - some parts of which are claimed by both India and Myanmar.    Terming the deal "suicidal" for the country, National Committee on Protection of Oil, Gas and Ports, a left-leaning umbrella group launched a series of demonstrations and a half- day general strike on July 3.    Meanwhile, addressing a roundtable discussion last Monday, Bangladesh Workers Party president and lawmaker Rashed Khan Menon said the government would not be allowed to export oil, gas, and other mineral resources from the country. Menon, along with other political leaders in the grand alliance, urged the government to enact the Mineral Resources Export Prohibition Act 2010 that has already been placed as a bill in the parliament.    He said the bill which he placed in the parliament last year was nothing but a reflection of Sheikh Hasina's stance in 1998 in response to the suggestion of gas export from the Bibiyana field made on the premise that the country was supposedly floating on oil and gas.    Criticising the contract with the US company, Menon said in the Jatiya Sangsad last Saturday that the present prime minister once had opposed any export of gas and said no gas would be allowed to be exported without keeping an adequate reserve for the country for the next 50 years but now her own government has signed a deal which contains the provision for gas export by a foreign company.    Menon demanded that the government should make public the production-sharing contract signed with ConocoPhillips. He also demanded open discussion in the parliament on the deal and said it is not acceptable that only some government officials and advisers should know the details of such an important deal while the people, who are the owners of the country' s resources, are kept in the dark.    Reminding his fellow MPs that a minister of the BNP-Jamaat-led four-party alliance government was allegedly bribed by Canadian company Niko, he said, 'It is not unlikely that such corruption will be unearthed in the future in connection with the ConocoPhillips deal.'    The Workers Party president lambasted a state minister for terming a leader of the oil-gas protection committee a 'foreign agent' and said people know it very well who the real foreign agents are.    Addressing the roundtable on energy security of Bangladesh last Monday, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal president and lawmaker Hasanul Haq Inu urged the government to scrap the deal, which has a provision that will encourage ConocoPhillips to export 80 per cent of the gas it will extract from hydrocarbon blocks 10 and 11 in the form of liquefied natural gas.    'Otherwise, the power-starved people of the country will start a massive movement against it,' he warned.    Inu said Bangladesh is suffering from severe energy shortage and it is not acceptable to sign any deal that gives the contractor the scope to export the country's mineral resources.    Pointing at the Niko deal and other one-sided contracts made in the country's energy sector, lawmaker Amena Ahmad termed such contracts 'anti-state'.

Awami League Chooses To Be A Slave, Not Master, Of History

THE passage of the 15 th amendment to the constitution in parliament on Thursday marks a sad episode in the political history of Bangladesh. By pushing the amendment through, the ruling Awami League officially completed its deviation from the spirit of the liberation war and bracketed itself with all those that it has consistently castigated as forces opposed to the spirit of liberation. In the objective clause of the amendment bill, the law minister claimed that the legislative exercise is aimed at restoration of the essence of the 1972 constitution by reinstating certain provisions therein in respect of fundamental rights of the people, fundamental principles of state policy, etc. The claim cannot be any farther from truth, since the amendment approves functioning of political parties formed on the basis of religious faith, and retains ‘Bismillah’ in the preamble of the constitution and Islam as the state religion, which were not in the 1972 constitution and run counter with the secular-democratic spirit of the liberation war. Notably, these were inserted in the constitution by the regimes that the party has always projected as undemocratic. The chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on law, justice and parliamentary affairs in its report on the amendment bill termed the retention of Bismillah and Islam as the state religion and allowance of religion-based politics a ‘compromise…in the greater welfare of the people.’ He suggested, albeit not in so many words, that his ‘matured’ understanding of the ‘importance’ of religion in power politics over the past three decades or so. In other words, the ruling party, which dictated history when it presided over the country’s war of liberation, has now chosen to be a slave of history despite its numerical strength in parliament. The compromise regrettably has resulted in dichotomies on the basis of not only religion but also ethnicity, between Muslim and non-Muslims, Bengalis and non- Bengalis. The amended Article 6 ( 2) says the ‘people of Bangladesh shall be known as Bengalees’, essentially relegating the members of the non-Bengali ethnic minority communities, who have lived in this country for generations through centuries, to second-class citizens, just as retention of Islam as state religion has done people of other faiths. While Bangladesh is the country of Muslims and non- Muslims, Bengalis and non- Bengalis alike, its state has become primarily of the Bengali Muslims. The consolation clauses, so to speak, in this regard, i.e. Article 12 (b) that says the state shall not grant ‘political status in favour of any religion’ and Article 23 A that says the ‘State shall take steps to protect and develop the local culture and tradition of the tribes, minor races, ethnic sects and communities’, tend to highlight the contradiction on the one hand and the Awami League’s nationalistic chauvinism on the other. The religious and ethnic stratification, needless to say, would contribute to further deepening of the sense of insecurity of non-Muslims and non-Bengalis. The least said about the essential hypocrisy behind the retention of socialism as one of the fundamental principles of state policy the better. The Awami League has long ceased to be a party ideologically inclined to socialism, if it ever were, and pursued anti-people neo-liberal economic policies, prime concern of which is profit-making, not people’s welfare, let alone egalitarianism. By pushing the amendment through the parliament, the ruling party has not only deviated from the spirit of the liberation war, which was fought in the hope of establishing a state that would be politically a people’s republic, culturally secular-democratic and economically egalitarian, and betrayed the people but may also have committed a political suicide. After all, the party now stands bereft of even the moral right to claim itself to be committed to the spirit of the liberation war and at par with the pseudo-democratic and autocratic military regimes of the past. Simply put, the Awami League has ultimately joined the ranks of its political rival, whom it has called anti-liberation. As for scrapping the election-time non-party caretaker government provision, which the party forced upon the constitution in 1996 to pave its way to power, it only proves that the politics of the ruling class is about crude struggle for retention of or return to state power. Understandably, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party is now fighting for its retention. Under these circumstances, it also draws the battle line between the power-obsessed ruling class and the politically conscious and democratically oriented sections of society. The latter needs to realise that they need to win the battle for realisation of the values and ideals of the liberation war so many people sacrificed their lives for. They also need to realise that, to win the battle, they must strive to become the master of history, not its slave, as the Awami League and its allies have chosen to be.

Q + A Is Bangladesh Heading Back To Political Violence?

Bangladesh on Thursday repealed a system of holding elections under a non- partisan caretaker administration that was introduced in the mid- 1990 s to try to end the violence and fraud that have often marred voting in the South Asian country. The constitutional amendment provoked unrest earlier this month, when opposition supporters clashed with security forces during a general strike called to protest against the move. It could trigger more violent protests by the opposition. Bangladesh has lagged behind the region in economic growth partly because of its history of political violence since independence in 1971 , and analysts fear more confrontational politics could derail its goal to become a middle- income country by 2021. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took office in early 2009 and a general election is not due until late 2013. The campaign against the electoral change by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its Islamic allies piles pressure on a government already struggling with discontent over high prices, growing unemployment and poor utility services. Following are some questions and answers relating to the renewed unrest:     WHAT IS THE MAIN ISSUE? Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the non-party caretaker system had to go after the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional in May.     The system, introduced in 1996 , generally worked well in keeping the peace and avoiding widespread rigging and fraud in parliamentary polls, though the losing side always complained of such abuses. Hasina's rival opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia accuses the government of attempting to cling to power. The ruling Awami League denies the allegation. Analysts say the brewing conflict over the issue could drag the country back into turmoil after the uneasy political peace of recent years. HOW DID THE CARETAKER SYSTEM WORK? Under the system, the ruling party hands power to a non-party interim authority that must hold a parliamentary election and transfer power to the elected government within three months. Bangladesh held three elections under the caretaker system, but it suffered a setback in 2007 when months of political violence prompted the powerful army to set up an interim authority, which stayed on for two years before holding a national vote at end of 2008. The army-backed caretaker government also led a widespread crackdown on corruption, in which both Khaleda and Hasina were put in jail for alleged wrongdoing, which they denied. The two women were freed ahead of the December 2008 election in which Hasina trounced Khaleda by a huge margin, winning more than two- thirds of the seats in parliament. Analysts and diplomats say the worsening political confrontations between the two women, often dubbed as "battling begums", could plunge Bangladesh back into political turmoil, threatening the country's fledgling economy and driving away hesitant investors.     WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES FACING THE GOVERNMENT? The government aims to achieve economic growth of 7 percent in the coming fiscal year starting in July on the back of higher exports and stable income from migrant workers. But this target may be missed if an opposition campaign to oust the government turns violent.     Hasina's government was widely applauded for its initial success in bringing down food and other commodity prices, and reducing diesel and fertiliser prices to help farmers, the mainstay of the country's agrarian economy. But soaring prices in global markets and corruption have partly driven costs higher, with inflation racing to a near three-year high. Price pressures are a major concern for the government as nearly 40 percent of the country's more than 150 million people live on less than $1.25 a day. The government has also been criticised fora recent crash in the stock market, where millions of small-time investors had put their money. In an effort to support share prices, the government has revived a tax amnesty offer that allows investors to pay 10 percent on undeclared money if they invest the rest in the stock market.     Unrest could also come from the export-oriented ready-made garment sector, where workers went on strike several times last year, demanding better benefits and wages. The authorities last year nearly doubled workers' pay, but it is still far less than what they had demanded.