Is Bangladesh Returning to Normalcy?
By Dr.Abdul Ruff Colachal
The Bangladesh government, charged with the task of cleansing the nation’s polity and bringing vigor to its economy by streamlining the country’s various institutions, has allowed on 11 June the former prime minister and opposition Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina Wajed - who is being held on corruption charges - to leave detention for eight weeks on medical grounds to enable her to obtain immediate medical treatment abroad. This step looks like an important step in government’s efforts to bring settled peace by meeting the political crisis in the country. And, Sheikh Hasina has left the country following her temporary release from prison to get medical treatment abroad. She left on a flight to London on her way to the US. She is due to have treatment for hearing, eyesight and blood problems.
The interim government, headed by former Central Bank chief Fakhruddin Ahmed, arrested Hasina in July last year for alleged corruption and has been undergoing trials. Special courts prosecuting Hasina for alleged corruption ruled the trials could continue in her absence, after a government-appointed medical board suggested she be sent abroad immediately. Hasina's freedom, temporary though it may be, had moved the Awami League and the military-backed government towards a "win-win situation" that would help push the political process forward. This indeed a welcome move.
The Awami League leader was released from her special jail on the grounds of parliament. A senior party member said that her ailments had all worsened considerably since she was jailed nearly a year ago. Her doctors insisted that she could not receive the right medical treatment in Bangladesh. However, it is not clear how serious her condition is or how long the treatment will take, she said would return immediately after the treatment to actively take part in politics. But she has asked the government to let her ailing sons, Tareque Rahman and Arafat Rahmanm, travel abroad for treatment.
Further, it is also not certain if she will be in the country to contest the elections, though she said wants to contest a parliamentary election planned for December or if her party would boycott the poll. In April last year, the military-backed interim government tried to block Sheikh Hasina's return from a personal visit abroad. It was forced to allow her back, although she was arrested soon afterwards. Some analysts believe once Hasina leaves she will not be allowed back, and that if Khaleda left the country that would also be her fate too.
However, party officials of Awami League which Hasina heads will now hold talks with the government over the staging of the December elections. The Awami League had been boycotting the talks, demanding that Sheikh Hasina be released first. She is among scores of politicians detained by the army-backed government for alleged corruption.
Meanwhile, the other main opposition leader Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party has also been given the chance to go abroad for medical treatment but she has refused the government's offer. Both former premiers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina have been charged with serious corruption and criminal offences. Sheikh Hasina has been accused of extortion and misuse of power, while Khaleda Zia has been accused of accepting bribes. Both women, however, still deny all charges against them. The government also tried to force Khaleda Zia also into exile. But that plan also failed and she too was jailed. It seems the government believes its plans to reform Bangladesh's political institutions will not work as long as the two veteran leaders are still on the scene.
The state of emergency has been in place in the country for the last 16 months. Hundreds of politicians have been arrested on corruption charges. Observers say the government wants the parties to reorganize and choose new leaders - which it argues is essential if credible elections are to be held. Parties are also being asked to change the way they are run, to open up their accounts to independent auditors and to agree to a code of conduct.
Last month the interim government announced that delayed general elections will take place in the third week of December. The exact day has yet to be set. Voting was due in January last year, but postponed after political violence led to a state of emergency. All of Bangladesh's parties, including the BNP and the Awami League, which alternately ruled the country between 1991 and 2006, have been invited to join the dialogue.
The military-backed interim government of Bangladesh began talks with two smaller parties in May. Earlier, the two main parties of Bangladesh said they will not take part in talks with the government until their leaders are released from detention. The Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) say that their respective leaders - Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia - are being unjustly held over false and fabricated corruption charges. The authorities say the discussions are part of a roadmap to restore democracy.
The parties question the credibility of the elections if held under emergency rule. While many senior Awami League politicians are in favor of beginning talks with the government, the party's rank and file membership across the country is vehemently opposed to such a move. Similarly, a BNP spokesman said that the dialogue would be not be meaningful and the forthcoming elections not acceptable without the presence of Khaleda Zia. People would now hope the government might offer a similar olive branch to Hasina's rival Begum Khaleda Zia and release her from detention
At issue now is to ensure politics at its finest possible form for politicians, but without the participation of politicians this just may not be possible. There is no alternative to starting a vigorous dialogue to that end and the government and political parties have to work out a formula to reach an agreement on how best to make politics as an effective tool for bringing about people's welfare. There is no denying the fact that, given the circumstances, both the government and political parties have to come to an understanding on the issue of holding the stalled ninth parliamentary election and thereby returning to parliamentary democracy. This positive development will be the beginning of a process of confidence-building leading to a full understanding of the task ahead for the nation and constructive participation by all the stakeholders in the process.
General public in Bangladesh wonders if the situation in the country would come back to normal in the near future and peace would be reinstated in the country by the interim government as its top most agenda, would the political parties indeed help the government cleanse the system infested with all lacunas and weaknesses. According to the global peace index survey conducted by an independent UK think tank, Bangladesh ranks first as the most peaceful nation in South Asia in 2008 and Bangladesh's role in the international fields has been appreciated by all nations including UN for top peace keepers in the troubled area of the global village. The people of the country deserve to advance towards higher goals in lives and the nation for a prosperous future.
In the name of democracy, global trends of rampant corruption and nepotism in combination with “necessary” crime have come to settle down in politics in third word as well. Unfortunately, the Muslim leaders don’t seem to get rid of these evil practices. Lust for power and wealth has tricked them into these anti-Islamic practices world wide. Amazing wealth by any means has occupied the sub-conscious of Muslims today. In power they do what pleases them the most, disregarding the basic tenets of Islam. The political leaders in Islamic countries, including Bangladesh, should take note of emerging ugly scene and set good examples for ordinary Muslims to emulate.
- Asian Tribune -