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Foregone Conclusion!

Foregone Conclusion!
Let the nation now focus on the Future!

Friday, 6 July 2007

Political future of Bangladesh in abeyance

The writer is Research Officer, IPCS

The last six months have seen a complete transformation of politics in Bangladesh. The fall from grace of Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, engineered by the military-backed caretaker government (CG), has created a leadership vacuum in the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) respectively with no prominent second-rung leaders to take up the reins.
It also means that the CG will have a free ride in the coming months with no worthy opponent to question its actions and policies. Since the declaration of emergency on January 11 and the subsequent ban on indoor politics, the political future of both Hasina and Khaleda has been in a state of limbo. The CG came up with a "minus-two" formula, a tactic to purge the two leaders and revamp the entire political system of Bangladesh.
The plan became evident when Hasina was not allowed to return to the country while on a private foreign visit. At the same time, Khaleda was being pressured to go into political exile to Saudi Arabia. However, neither attempt succeeded. The CG withdrew its ban on Hasina's return succumbing to international pressure while Khaleda, decided against going to Saudi Arabia in return for the release of her detained son Tarique Rehman and a safe passage for her entire family.
Presently, both leaders are in the country with a thick cloud of mystery and ambiguity surrounding their future plans. Khaleda's situation is more precarious when compared to Hasina as she is also facing an intra-party rebellion. The BNP is divided into pro-Khaleda and pro-reform camps with more and more joining the latter.
The pro-reform camp is led by BNP Secretary General, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, whose supporters have been openly criticizing Khaleda for her dictatorial style of functioning and for promoting her sons and relatives. A set of reform proposals for increased intra-party democracy, decentralization and transparency has been finalized by the "reformists" who are determined to implement the proposals with or without Khaleda's acquiescence.
Khaleda's options are limited considering most of her close aides have deserted her in the past few months. Tarique Rahman is unlikely to get bail and even if he does, the military will force him to leave the country immediately. The CG, aided by the military in this endeavor, is abetting the intra-party discord and striving hard to force Khaleda into exile realizing that that BNP without Khaleda will be a political non-entity. Meanwhile Sheikh Hasina has been non-committal about her future course of action and it appears that the CG too does not know how to deal with her.
After first banning her entry into the country, the CG has now imposed restrictions on her from leaving the country. Meanwhile, Hasina too is being challenged within her party by a group of dissident leaders who reportedly drafted a reform proposal without her consent. Realizing that such a move might jeopardize whatever little chance she has to salvage her political career; Hasina has come out strongly in support of intra-party reforms and in the coming months, one can expect to see a greater devolution of power within the Awami League.
Although Hasina's stature will be weakened considerably, it would be premature to rule her out from the political equations of the Awami League or the elections in 2008, unless there is a military coup. So far, the military has appeared disinclined to take over the mantle of governing the country. The Army Chief, Lt Gen Moeen U Ahmed has clearly stated that the army is merely "assisting" the CG and that it is not the appropriate institution to rule the country.
Assessing the performance of the army objectively in the last five months, one has to admit that it has greatly improved the law and order situation in Bangladesh. It put an end to the confrontational politics of the BNP and Awami League and brought relief to ordinary citizens by banning street politics. The anti-corruption drive netted some of the most important leaders of BNP and Awami League and though the ban on indoor politics is still in place, it is not necessarily a bad thing. Lifting the ban may see a resumption of the street politics that had plagued Bangladesh from October 2006 till the declaration of emergency on January 11.
However, in the longer term, the army or the CG cannot be entrusted with the task of governing the country, given the inexperience in governance of the former and the impermanent nature of the latter. Problems of inflation, pricing of essential commodities, power outages and providing social security to over 150 million people is a job that would be best accomplished by democratically elected representatives of the people.
Politics in Bangladesh appears ideologically deficient and directionless. While the credibility of the BNP has been greatly undermined by the arrests of several of its leaders, the Awami League has to reinvent itself in order to stand a good chance in the 2008 elections. In any case, like in Pakistan, Thailand and Fiji, it appears that the military in Bangladesh will continue to be the custodian of political, social and economic stability for some time to come.

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July 19, 2007 - Coalition for Good Governance Seminar

Seminar on Political Reforms will be held at the VIP lounge of the National Press Club at 10:00 a.m. The seminar is hosted by the Coalition for Good Governance. Dr. Akbar Ali Khan will be the chief guest. Pro Reforms Group is a member of the Coalition. The papers, points of view and details of the seminar will be published at this blog.
For all the resources on reforms, governance & democracy including papers, articles and links please click here