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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2760

“Coup syndrome in Bangladeshi politics and designs therein”

By Rabindranath Trivedi - for Asian Tribune from Dhaka

Part – II Reform is not Refractory Event, it’s a Design

Dhaka, 02 July, (Asiantribune.com): We had the dubious distinction of topping the list of the most corrupt nations under the regimes of both AL and BNP. But most certainly this nation, which had sacrificed so much for its liberation, did not deserve the degradation writes Khaled shams , son of former foreign adviser of Zia’s cabinet and a former civil servant.

Bangladesh is after all a nation that was inspired by nationalistic, secular and progressive values arising out of a bloody war of independence. As I had stressed in one of my earlier writings, Bangladesh is probably the most homogeneous amongst the Asian nations. If you compare our situation with neighbours like India, Pakistan, Malaysia, or even a smaller country like Sri Lanka, the nation building tasks that faced our leaders were much simpler, he added.

Religion will be an important social force for all the communities and ethnic groups; but what we needed foremost was enlightened leadership that could bring everyone -- including the small ethnic groups and religious minorities -- within the folds of an all-inclusive concept of nationhood.

Minorities in Bangladesh have been unfortunate victims of persecution and discrimination. With a genuine nationalistic platform, we could embrace them all as integral and constituent elements of our nation. We have to provide them with more equitable opportunities to develop themselves.

We also needed a straightforward vision for socio-economic development, focusing on quick alleviation of poverty and expansion of educational and health facilities for all citizens.

Since the 90s there has been considerable progress on many fronts, with GDP growth picking up during the last decade.

But, at the same time, we have also witnessed, unfortunately, the total collapse of the governmental, social and political, institutions, which were responsible for nurturing, protecting and promoting democratic values and public morality.

Politics of confrontation, combined with a brazen lust for power for attainment of private gains, have destroyed our universities and educational institutions, the judiciary and the bureaucracy, all professional bodies, public enterprises and, finally, the political parties themselves, which were the mainstay of our parliamentary democracy mentioned Khaled Shams ,a former civil servant (DS,29 June 07) .

Pressures from political reformists in Bangladesh are causing cracks within the parties. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jatiya Party have already faced splits, while the Awami League leadership is faced with a strong revolt. Bangladesh’s third largest political party Jatiya Party is divided between husband-wife factions. Former first lady Rawshan on Tuesday declared herself as the party’s “acting chief”, ousting husband H M Ershad, a former military ruler.

The pressures on political parties were triggered by a call for “political reforms” by the interim government that has banned all political activities since January under a spell of national emergency.

The BNP too faced outright rebellion against its chief Begum Khaleda Zia. A hundred former ministers and lawmakers defied Zia, who has been the country’s prime minister twice. The rebels openly declared their support for the party’s secretary general, Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, The Daily Star said.

The Awami League, the country’s oldest party, has fared relatively better. Its chief, Sheikh Hasina, also a former prime minister, has staved off rebellion by taking up a position more radical than the reformists.

She pre-empted the rebels by appointing committees to review the party’s constitution and the organisational framework.

In a well-publicised move, she authorised the committee to get inputs about constitutions of political parties from the US, the UK, India and some other countries.

But she too is not without criticism from some old timers who were with her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Tofael Ahmed and Suranjit Sengupta are among those who have been openly critical of the working style of the “supreme leader”, as Hasina is known by the party’s rank and file.

Hasina has been criticised for signing a poll pact with an Islamist militant organisation, Bangladesh Khelafat Movement, without consulting her colleagues. However, she justified her move by saying that defeating “communal” forces - Jamaat-e-Islami, once a part of the BNP-led coalition - was more important.

Political analysts say things could worsen for the incumbent leaderships of all parties once the government lifts the ban on overt political activities.

The reforms could end the domination of the political arena by the two women leaders Zia and Hasina, the analysts say.

The government’s call for reforms has been viewed with suspicion in some quarters because it made abortive attempts to oust Zia and Hasina from the political scene.

There is now a move by former BNP lawmaker Firoze Ahmed to float a new political party, allegedly under official patronage. Ahmed has been trying to gather second and third rank leaders and workers from other parties, a move that has raised the heckles of the established parties. “What is the guarantee that leaders of these parties are above corruption?” Hasina asked last week. – IANS

The interim authority, which imposed emergency rule in January amid widespread turmoil, cancelled an election due that month. It says new polls will be held around the end of next year but only after completing its political reforms and anti-corruption drive.Emerging reformists in Hasina's Awami League, meanwhile, said they would unveil their own reform agenda soon, aimed at curtailing her party rule.

Let us look into the design of reform and the hidden agenda thereof

Design –I

Awami League president and former premier Sheikh Hasina has come up with some novel proposals for reforms, which should turn out to be a reformer's delight in view of the heightened fervour and pressure for political reforms in Bangladesh. In her latest surprise move, she proposed that no leader over the age of 60 should be allowed to remain a member of the Awami League presidium or central working committee, and that all leaders exceeding 60 be accommodated in the advisory council.

Previously, in an exclusive interview with The Daily Star, Sheikh Hasina categorically said that the party president's post, or the same person should not hold any other party position, more than twice.She also added that not only should the party chief be barred from becoming the prime minister, all central committee office bearers should also be prohibited from becoming ministers or state ministers as well. In her words: "One group of people should run the party, and another set should run the government." The AL chief's proposal has come at a time when some senior leaders of her party have already been secretly preparing a set of reform proposals. Through this proposal Hasina has finally disclosed her thoughts on leaving the post of party chief, which she has been holding since 1981.

Reform is the demand of the people and the government alike. Thus, comprehensive and inclusive reform, incorporating initiation of intra-party democracy as well as preclusion of intrusion of black money and muscle into politics, is the expectations of all quarters interested in reform.

I, thus, fail to understand the rationale behind the so-called "minus" formula. Can there not be spontaneous reforms that would pave the way for clearing our vitiated political culture once and for all?

Plagued by allegations of corruption of all hues, and with senior party leaders either in jail or distanced from heras depicted in the news item in Daily Star covering her interview the former premier still shows unwavering determination that she would come out stronger by disproving all charges if she is given a fair chance to fight.I think reform should be allowed to take its own course, and Sheikh Hasina be given a look in. I am more than certain that history will give her the marching orders should she fail to stick to her proposals, and come good in terms of execution, mentioned Kazi S.M. Khasrul Alam Quddusi, University of Chittagong, Bangladesh.

Design-II

Bangladesh's former ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is seemingly facing a split as reformists Monday made a proposal showing door to ex-prime minister Khaleda Zia to quit from the party's chairperson post. Khaleda Zia has been holding the post as chairperson of BNP for 23 years.

BNP Secretary General Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan announced their 15-point reform proposal for the party. Following is the full text of the proposal:

1. The changes that are to be brought in the existing party structure:

a. There are provisions for village councils and village executive committees in Article 1 of Section 6 (a). To be added here: Formation of 31-member ward executive committee.

b. Sub-section a (10) of Article 6 empowers the chairman to nominate 10 per cent of members in all eight stages of leadership, from thana executive committee to the National Standing Committee. This section will be abolished.

c. Section 10 (c) of Article 6 authorises the chairman to nominate different subject committees with members from the National Council, if necessary under circumstances of important national problems. The subject committees may be formed, among others, on the matters concerning national planning and finance, health and population control, rural development, flood control, food and agriculture, eradication of illiteracy, education, labour welfare, women, youth community, international affairs and welfare of children. Experts on different sectors, competent and efficient people, who are not members of the party, could be co-opted in these committees. But, under no circumstances the number of such members should exceed one-third of total members of the committee. Co-opted members will enjoy all other facilities like other members. To be added: The chairman will take approval of national standing committee before nominating the committees.

Activities of the committees will be specified.

d. Article 6 (11) mentions that the party chairman will nominate members of the National Executive Committee. This provision will be replaced with the following: Councillors will elect all members of the National Executive Committee.

e. Article 6 (12) states that the national standing committee, nominated by the chairman, will be comprised of 15 members. Instead of this provision, members of national standing committee will be elected through a national council. A person, who is not member of the national executive committee, will not be eligible to become a member of the National Standing Committee.

f. Committees in all strata of the party will be elected through council of respective stages.

2. Article 6 (14) points out that the parliamentary party shall comprise the elected party lawmakers. The parliamentary party shall select its leader, deputy leader, chief whip and other whips after consultation with the party chairman. This provision will be replaced by: Members of the parliamentary party will elect their leader, deputy leader, chief whip and other whips.

3. It is stated about the party chairman's advisory council that there shall be a advisory council comprising 15 members with the status of vice-president for giving advice to the chairman on different issues. But, on special demand the party chairman has the authority to increase the members of the advisory council.

They will be nominated by the chairman and will be treated as ex-officio members of the national executive committee.

Instead of this provision, the chairman will be able to appoint advisors on demand with approval of the National Standing Committee and this will have to be approved in the next Executive Committee meeting.

4. Article 8 (a) says that the party chairman shall be elected for a two-year term with common majority of direct votes by the national council members. Anyone can be elected for another tenure after completing the term. The following provisions will replace this provision:

8 (a) (1): Party chairman will be elected for a three-year term winning common majority votes of the members of the national council.

(2) No one can continue as chairman for more than two terms or six years. This provision will also be applicable for those who have been already in the post for two terms or more than six years in the aforesaid post.

5. The elected prime minister will run operations in government and parliament in consultation with the party's chairman and National Standing Committee on policy issues.

6. If elected the prime minister twice, a person can no longer be the prime minister or the party chairman.

7. In sections 1,2,3,4 of 8 (b), it is mentioned that (1) as the party's highest official, the chairman will control, supervise and coordinate all party affairs, and to that end, will officiate over the national council, National Standing Committee, National Executive Committee, subject committees and other committees nominated by the chairman, and will control, supervise and coordinate their operations. (2) The chairman can also take punitive measures against members of the aforementioned committees if necessary. (3) As the president of the mentioned committees, the chairman will also assign the committee members' responsibilities, power and duties. (4) If he/she thinks necessary, the chairman can dissolve the National Executive Committee, National Standing Committee, subject committees and other committees nominated by the chairman.

8. Section 13 of Chapter 6 states: There shall be a parliamentary board to nominate candidates for national parliamentary elections or any other elections. The party's Standing Committee shall be the party's parliamentary board. But, when a district's candidate is asked to appear before the parliamentary board, that district's party president, first three vice-presidents, and general secretary will be considered as members of the parliamentary board. But, if a member of the parliamentary board runs for election, he cannot be present at the meeting when the candidate nomination for their constituency is being decided. The party chairman will be the parliamentary board president. The parliamentary board will serve to nominate the candidate for national parliamentary elections or any other elections and their decisions shall be considered final.

To be added: Measures are to be taken to reflect the wishes of the leaders and workers from the constituencies.

9. Council of all the committees must be completed by the time allocated by the party constitution.

10. The party treasurer will collect the organization’s funds and maintain its accounts. A bank account shall be opened in any commercial bank and the account shall be operated with the joint signatures of two among the president, treasurer and the general secretary, but one of the signatures must be of the treasurer. An audit of the party's account must be held annually, and the audit report has to be published within six months of the completion of a fiscal year. The party's fund will be created through the donations and grants of members.

To be added: All donations will be acknowledged with a receipt. All income and expenditures of all organizational units will also be annually audited for the fund's transparency. A specific guideline must be drawn up to collect funds and the fund's maintenance must adhere to the rules and regulations set by the standing committee. An annual budget must be prepared and all income and expenditure accounts presented before each meeting.

11. Party ministers, MPs, Standing Committee members, Executive Committee members, subject committee members, district committee members, and thana committee members will have to submit their annual wealth statements to the National Executive Committee.

12. The inclusion of family members and close relatives of leaders on all levels of the party must be discouraged.

13. Section 2 of the Article mentions that if required in case of an emergency the party chairman can make a change to the party constitution, but the decision must be accepted at the next meeting of the national council as described in Section A.
This section will be cancelled.

14. The candidates' wealth statements must be submitted to the party during all nominations, and on behalf of the party, a committee will determine their veracity.

15. The reform programmes that the Election Commission will undertake through discussion with the political parties will be adjusted with the party constitution.

Probe body design-III

BNP Secretary General Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan said an enquiry committee would be formed to identify those people who are responsible for the current debacle of the party. He also hoped that the party would be forever freed from efforts to establish dynasty, corruption, nomination trade and autocracy through the implementation of the reforms proposal and urged those who believe in Ziaur Rahman's ideology to work together in favor of the reforms proposal. "An enquiry committee has to be formed for taking actions against those people who are responsible for the current disaster in the party," he said yesterday at a press briefing.

Asked when the enquiry committee would be formed, Bhuiyan said, "Soon." He said followers of president Zia are facing new challenges. The past glory of the party has to be reinstated, he added. "Competent, honest and dedicated leaders and workers have to take the place of corrupt and incompetent ones," he said adding that competence, honesty and dedication should be valued, not blind loyalty or black money.

The BNP secretary general said, "The failure to hold the January 22 elections brought the disaster in the party but the honest and dedicated leaders and workers of grassroots level still do not know who were responsible for this." "Those should be identified who brought disaster by misusing power, being arrogant, being involved in criminal activities, making mistakes, being involved in corruption and nepotism," he said.

He said the country witnessed a qualitative change in January 11 and the caretaker government saved the country from troubles as a civil war like situation was created due to the failure of political parties.

Design: Operation JP

The wife of former Bangladesh military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad declared that she had taken control of his Jatiya Party, a day after former loyalists moved to clip the wings of a former premier.

Rowshan Ershad, the ex-strongman's political number two, told a hurriedly called news conference that "from now on I am the acting head of the Jatiya Party."

"Ershad is no longer its chief," she said. "One man cannot run the party for ever and the time has come to end his absolute authority over the party." Jatiya is the country's third biggest party after the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led respectively by former premiers Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia. Ershad told a separate news briefing he remained at the party helm and vowed: "I will expel her from the party for gross indiscipline and disobedience."

Rowshan, twice estranged from Ershad but reunited with him after his nine-year rule ended in 1990, said today she had the support of a majority of Jatiya party seniors and policy makers.

Ershad's followers hit back, saying the "equation will change in a while and the reins will remain with Ershad."

Design: Theory of Minus Two

A panel of BNP reformists led by secretary-general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan unveiled a 15-point plan to curb Khaleda's autocratic control over the party. Kaleda Zia, who led Bangladesh twice from 1991-1996 and 2001-2006, is already facing possible corruption charges and apparent pressure to go into exile amid a major anti-graft crackdown by the country's military-backed emergency government. Mahbubur Rahman, a reformist in Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), said she would be asked to step down as party chief as soon as the authorities lift a ban on politics that was imposed in January.

"Party secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan has unveiled the reform proposals this afternoon, which we hope will inject new life into the BNP and make it strong and popular," he said, indicating that Zia had lost her grip on the party."We will ask her to quit the party post. I think she will accept the proposals because we have the support of almost all the senior party figures," he said.

Mahbubur Rahman who is also a former army chief ,also insisted the party coup was not taking place at the behest of Bangladesh's interim leaders, who have vowed to clean up the country's notoriously corrupt political landscape before holding new polls by the end of next year reports AFP.

The mainstream opposition parties under the banner of 14-party opposition coalition announced a 23-point common minimum national programme that pledged to establish a democratic country free from communal politics and announced at the Paltan Maidan rally on November22, 2005 was a revolutionary reform programme. “There is now a groundswell of public opinion, as well as a consensus amongst the top political leaders, that reforms within the parties must be carried out. Already, top leaders of BNP have announced an agenda of reforms, which will be placed before its council. ..The leadership within Awami League is contemplating similar reforms as well. The debate, ultimately, will involve the present caretaker government but also the general population, the civil society, political parties, the business community, the media, the armed forces, and the various interest groups, including non-government institutions.

Following is the some points of the common minimum national programme:

1. A secular democratic government will be established through free and fair elections that will be held after bringing reforms in the caretaker system of government and the Election Commission on the basis of the guidelines announced on July 15, 2005. The elections will be free from black money, violence and communalism. People will not accept any election without reforms in the caretaker system of government and the Election Commission.

2. The country will be freed from chauvinist communal forces and militants. Such forces will be removed from all levels of the government and administration. Trials of war criminals will be held and there will be a ban on communal politics. Freedom to practice religion, freedom of expression and freedom of conscience will be ensured. The verdict of the Bangabandhu murder case will be executed. Perpetrators responsible for all grenade and bomb blasts, including the one on August 21, 2004 and the one on the British high commissioner, will be brought to book. All training camps of Jamaat, Shibir and other militants will be identified and eliminated.

3. People are the owners of all resources and power based on this principle supremacy of the constitution will be established in running of the country. Rule of law will be established, all laws contrary to the fundamental rights of the people will be scrapped, steps will be taken to stop extra-judicial killings, and the judiciary will be separated from the executive branch of the government.

4. The parliament will be the centre of all activities. Accountability of the government will be ensured. Elections to district and upazila councils will be held within a year of the formation of the new government. Autonomous local governments will be strengthened and empowered properly.

5. Criminals and their godfathers will be identified and will be brought to book. They will not be accepted as members of any political party and no party can nominate them in the elections. A healthy political environment will be ensured by stopping political corruption and criminalization.

6. A system will be introduced so that all ministers, lawmakers, politicians and bureaucrats disclose the accounts of their assets. Their accounts will be monitored in order to ensure that corruption is rooted out from all spheres of the state and the society. The Anti Corruption Commission will be made effective. Those found to be guilty of corruption, and the loan defaulters will be dealt with sternly.

7. Prices of essentials, including of rice, pulse and oil, will be brought back within the people’s reach. A price regulating authority will be established. Rationing system will be introduced for the poor and the low-income group. Tariff for utility services will be kept stable. The famine in the northern region and food crisis in other parts of the country will be dealt with. Food security will be ensured for all. Water logging, a long-standing problem in the south-western part of the country, will also be dealt with.

8. All closed mills and factories will be reopened. Pragmatic measures will be initiated for protecting garment industries. A national minimum wage will be announced for workers irrespective of the sector, and an environment conducive to more local and foreign investment will be ensured.

9. A national programme will be initiated for removing poverty. There will be specific allocation in the national budget for poverty alleviation. Slum dwellers, vendors and rickshaw-pullers will not be evicted without proper rehabilitation. Government land will be distributed among the real landless people.

10. All able citizens of urban and rural areas will be registered in order to remove unemployment; pragmatic steps will be taken so that at least one youth from every family comes under the “employment guarantee scheme”.

11. Prices of agri-inputs will be lowered and fair prices for agro-products will be ensured. There will be also subsidies in agriculture, employment for agri-workers, effective measures for agri-rehabilitation and land reform.

12. State, social and financial honor for the freedom fighters will be ensured. And so on .

The 14-party led by Al Chief Sheikh Hasina put forward these programme. What more to be called reform in politics? Only reform in the manifesto of the political parties would not serve the purpose or minus two theories moreover that will call for greater disaster in the body politic of the country.

The leadership of the future must mature through an institutional process. That is why the local government institutions at the union, district and municipal levels need to be urgently revitalized, so that they can provide the schooling for our future leadership. A decentralized local government structure, therefore, becomes a prerequisite for mature, responsible, political development, and for good leadership to emerge from the grassroots, opined Khalid Shams, a former civil servant and Deputy Managing Director of Grameen Bank.

Leadership is a quality earned by endeavour and people’s confidence; it can’t be imposed or incurred by state mechanizations like Zia and Ershad. Zia divided Awami League into two led by Abdul Malek Ukil and Mizanur Rahman Choudhury in 1978.

Ershad followed the blue print of the divisive policy of Zia and create the Jatiya Party in collaboration of defectors of different parties and that helped defectors like Mizanur Rahman Choudhury, Ataur Rahman Khan and Moudud Ahmed,Kazi Zafar Ahmed to become Prime Minister under a rubber stamp parliament. Ershad took power because country was merged with corruption done by BNP ministers and leaders. But, it is now a fact that Ershad institutionalized Corruption in the body politics of the country and present BNP-Jamaat led four party’s corruption is the legacy of post August 1975.

Under the cover of the present emergency the rulers have undertaken a multi-faceted ambitious mission. If they really mean reform, then they should start it from repealing 5th and 8th amendments. By repealing the Vested Property Act and all other black laws. “We have, right now, an unprecedented opportunity for reforming and redesigning our political and electoral systems. Bangladesh could be passing through the most exciting time since its independence; we seem to have arrived at a historic crossroads. What was our worst of times could also become our finest hour. But corruption can be of various kinds, and can take place at various levels. One has to distinguish between political corruption by the top leaders, and the more pervasive common form of corruption within the bureaucracy. It is important to take measures not only to punish those who resort to corrupt practices, but, more importantly, also for their prevention in the future observed Khalid Shams, a former civil servant.

In both the cases of BNP and Jatiya Party, army took the state power and formed political party with the help of a section of political activists those who have a little pace for doing positive role in their respective parties. Under the cover of the emergency the rulers have undertaken a multi-faceted ambitious mission. Who is coming ahead to led the nation? Legacy of Bangladeshi politics after August 1975, has been maintaining the Coup syndrome in politics and power under the all regimes.

To be Concluded tomorrow

Rabindranath Trivedi is a retired Addle Secretary and former press secretary to the president of Bangladesh, author and columnist.

- Asian Tribune -

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