The cat is out of the bag

Editorial, NewAge, July 27, 2008. Dhaka, Bangladesh

For the over 18 months that it has been in power, the military-controlled interim government has insisted that it does not have a political agenda and has not been engaged in political engineering. Even when it was clear, in March and April of last year, that the regime was actively trying to exile our country’s two top political leaders as part of a plan to neutralise them politically, the regime denied having any such agenda and has continued to deny since the very existence of a ‘minus-two’ programme even though it has perceivably carried on its efforts to implement that programme in different ways and through different means. Against that backdrop, the statements made by the communications adviser Golam Quader, on Thursday, regarding the regime’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering with Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson, Khaleda Zia, proves that this regime has been disingenuous with the people of this country.
   

Through his admission that the regime has been trying to strike a deal with Khaleda similar to a deal that was apparently reached with Awami League president Sheikh Hasina that resulted in her temporary release, the communications adviser has confirmed our worst fears as expressed in these columns on countless occasions – that the military-controlled government has been almost singularly focused on political engineering through its direct interference in the political process rather than on its primary duty of creating a level playing field for the existing political parties to contest parliamentary elections. 
   

Although we are not sure about the contents of the deals that are under discussion or ones that may already have been struck, speculation has it that the regime has been trying to get both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina to commit to leaving the country on the pretext of seeking medical treatment, or to retire from active politics in exchange for their release from jail. It is extremely unfortunate that a regime that announced immediately after it seized power that it would strengthen democracy is undermining the very ideal of democracy by imposing such deals on the political parties for its self-preservation. Had the government worked sincerely towards the holding of elections rather than getting itself embroiled in the political process and trying to advance its self-serving political agenda, it would not have needed to impose deals on the political parties.
   

Moreover, the fact that the regime is deal-making with political leaders who were earlier arrested on charges of corruption and while they are under trial further erodes the credibility of the incumbents’ entire anti-corruption campaign and betrays its lack of commitment to the rule of law. Had the regime ensured that due process was strictly adhered to in the investigations, arrests, interrogations and prosecutions of those suspected of corruption, it would have been able to have greater faith in the legal system and not feel it necessary to have to bypass it by deal-making with allegedly corrupt political leaders to keep them out of politics. The extent to which this regime has botched both its anti-corruption campaign and its attempts to change the nature of politics is almost beyond comprehension. 
   

The military-controlled government must by now realise that it does not have the mandate, the authority or the know-how to try to positively impact politics or strengthen democracy by engaging in political engineering. It is high time, therefore, that it abandons its political agenda and focuses on its main responsibility of aiding the Election Commission in holding parliamentary elections and overseeing the peaceful transition to an elected government.

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