Chief adviser’s tenuous claim

Editorial, NewAge, June 30, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

THE chief adviser, Fakhruddin Ahmed, was quoted by the state-run Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha as telling the ‘national dialogue for transition to democracy’ in Chittagong on Saturday that upazila elections would precede the parliamentary polls ‘as per the desire of the people’. As some well-meaning leaders across the political divide have done, we would also like to question the basis of such a claim. So far as we know, the government has neither conducted any public survey nor held a referendum on the issue. The basis of the claim is, therefore, rather tenuous. Also, it does not appear that the chief adviser was, by any means, anxious to gauge what the people truly desire. If he genuinely were, all he had to do was to look up the constitution, which, according to article 7 (2), is ‘the solemn expression of the will of the people’, and which, according to article 58D (2), requires his government ‘to give to the Election Commission all possible aid and assistance that may be required for holding the general election of members of Parliament peacefully, fairly and impartially’ and nothing else.
   

Yet, the chief adviser sounded as emphatic as one could be. We wonder wherein the source of his new-found confidence lies. It may be that the incumbents believe they have been successful in creating a chasm between and within the political parties, and are, therefore, confident of pushing forward whatever agenda they may have up their sleeves. With the Awami League having decided to contest the city corporation and municipality polls on August 4 and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party so far sticking to its position of boycotting local elections, the incumbents may have been able to drive a wedge between the two major political camps and obviate the possibility of a unified movement for restoration of the democratic political process. What they may have completely discounted is the fact that the division, if perpetuated, could also lead to a confrontational situation, which, if so happens, will exact a heavy toll on the nation and the incumbents may not be spared from its ill-effect.
   

We have no doubt that stronger and effective local government is a prime prerequisite for the democratisation of the state and society. We are also aware that the previous elected governments largely defaulted on their constitutional obligation of holding elections to the local government bodies. However, it is the job of the people – politically-oriented sections of civil society to be precise – to make the elected governments adhere to the constitutional dictates, by way of keeping constant pressure on them. Besides, this regime does not have the constitutional mandate to hold local government elections in the first place. In such circumstances, there is no reason to regard its insistence on holding local government elections as an expression of its commitment to democracy and every reason to suspect that it may be part of a greater design to create a grassroots political platform from which to launch a king’s party.
   

There are at least two reasons why, we feel, the people should be suspicious of this regime’s intentions. First, extra-political governments in this part of the world have shown a tendency, from the time of General Ayub Khan’s martial law regime in the Pakistan days, to hold local polls before general elections. And second, the Fakhruddin government, in tandem with the Election Commission, has overtly and covertly attempted to redraw the political landscape by creating division within the political forces. Moreover, whenever an extra-political regime has tried to introduce one blend of guided democracy or the other, it has always found cronies to give it the mask of popular support. The interim government seems to have found its cronies as well. However, it should be mindful of the fact that these individuals do not represent the people at large. Therefore, the incumbents would be well-advised to respect the constitution, which is the expression of the people’s will, and go by its constitutional obligation of holding contested and credible elections and paving the way for a peaceful transition to governance by elected representatives of the people.  

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