Lift restrictions on politics instead of tightening them

Editorial: NewAge, November 11, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

We note with concern the latest instruction of the military-driven interim government to the law enforcement agencies to ensure stricter adherence to the conditions on indoor politics under the state of emergency. The order, which came a day after activists of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party assaulted several ‘reformist’ leaders of the party including standing committee member and former army chief Mahbubur Rahman, was given at the twelfth meeting of the cabinet committee on law and order on Thursday.

We at New Age have repeatedly and unequivocally demanded, from the very beginning of this period of emergency, the full restoration of the fundamental rights of the people as well as the complete lifting of the ban on political activity, indoors and outdoors. While we certainly do not wish to see a return to the crude power struggle between the different groups of self-seeking political parties, we have held firm in our belief that the people of this country should not, even for a fleeting moment let alone for months on end, be deprived of their fundamental rights as citizens of a sovereign state. Similarly, while we have relentlessly opposed the bloody, confrontational politics of the past as had been practiced by our political parties and do not want to see our country being dragged down that tortuous route ever again, we do not believe and can never support the suspension of the democratic process and the ban on political activity, however temporary either may be. To put it simply, we do not subscribe to the idea that democracy can be strengthened through keeping it suspended, or that the nature of politics can be positively transformed through banning it altogether in an effort to remould the polity. In our opinion, the democratisation of the state and society requires an unfailing commitment to democratic values and ideals, which cannot and should not be compromised even under the most difficult of circumstances. After all, real democracy is dependent upon a political process that allows the people the opportunity and space to voice, demand, and fight for their individual and collective aspirations.

Therefore, we cannot help but feel alarmed by the fact that at a time when we had expected that the military-driven government would further relax the restrictions on political activity, it has asked the law enforcement agencies to step up their vigil and tighten their noose around the political parties. We are made increasingly anxious by the fact that instead of allowing the people their necessary democratic space, the government is persisting with the state of emergency that automatically suspends their democratic rights. We are disappointed that despite our repeated demands for the earliest return to a democratic dispensation, the government appears to be taking its sweet time to bring about necessary administrative and electoral reforms and are thereby delaying, without any good reason, elections to the ninth parliament, which have been stalled since January last.

We take this opportunity to remind the government that it is pledge-bound to the people of this country, as well as the international community, to restore the democratic process. Therefore, we urge it, once more, to immediately restore the fundamental rights of the citizens, lift completely the ban on politics and to bring about necessary electoral reforms to hold parliamentary elections without unnecessary delay.

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