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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2865

Wild speculations of civilian coup in Bangladesh

Dhaka, 13 May, ( Speculations are rife, particularly in the vernacular print media, about a 'foreign' design to effect a 'civilian coup d'etat' in Bangladesh by diplomatic maneuvers surrounding the next general election. A number of political analysts, leaders of opinion, men of letters and newspaper columnists have expressed their reservations, as well as their dark misgivings, about the diplomatic ping-pong that has been going on, signaling keen Western interest in 'free and fair' elections in Bangladesh, scheduled in January 2007. Some of them have detected strong Indian interest and persuasion, particularly behind diplomatic moves and noises made by some European Union member-states.

The former US Ambassador in Bangladesh, Mr. Harry K. Thomas had bluntly talked about the possibility of intervention by a 'third force' (generally interpreted as military rule directly or behind a civil facade) and derailment of the democratic process. He urged the political parties to reach a minimum consensus about the rules of the game for democratic governance and transition.

The new US ambassador Patricia Butenis has also made her position clear by saying that the coming general elections are critical for Bangladesh, and need to be 'free and fair'. She refused to be drawn into the political controversy about reforms of the caretaker system and the Election Commission that are demanded as a precondition by the mainstream opposition for participation in the coming elections.

She said they were internal matters of Bangladesh to be resolved by the politicians themselves. Various reports and statements by the US State Department have been consistently suggesting that political violence between the two major political camps in Bangladesh has been providing a climate of immunity to home-grown terrorists and extremists.

Side by side with governance issues, the US administration has been drawing attention to the pressing need for a political equation between the ruling and opposition camps over the conduct of the 2007 general elections to bury the question of the legitimacy of the winning camp volubly raised after every election. US observers generally noted that general elections in Bangladesh have been 'free and fair' under the three successive caretaker governments, while lending an ear to the aggrieved chorus for reforms to fine-tune the system in a manner that will allow 'veto powers' of bi-partisan nature for the mainstream political parties over the interim caretaker government.

Some European diplomats, on the other hand, have been taking a perceptibly different approach, leaning more towards the opposition's demand for system-change to ensure that the elections will be free from intimidation, minority fears, and partisan manipulations of the 'subtle' kind that might distort the results in the incumbent government's favor. A European initiative of holding a meeting in Washington of the Western 'development partners' of Bangladesh on governance issues in Bangladesh, without the presence of government representatives in that meeting, set alarm bells ringing.

The 'Tuesday Group' of Western Ambassadors in Bangladesh thereafter undertook an initiative to hold an international conference to teach the government and non-government organizations, officials and activists in Bangladesh, lessons on how best to conduct and monitor free and fair polls.

The initiative was undertaken without informing the government of Bangladesh, but has thereafter entered the phase of diplomatic exchanges. Then there was the so-called European Troika's visit, another visit by European Commissioners and frequent comments by some Ambassadors and visiting dignitaries from European countries, all harping on serious European concern about free and fair general elections due next year in Bangladesh. Either on their own or in reply to leading questions by some reporters in Dhaka, European diplomats have in effect been creating doubts about free and fair elections in the country rather than saying anything encouraging or doing anything helpful. In so many words, the European Union countries also appear to be assigning to themselves a right, manifestly outside the stipulations of the UN charter, to judge 'the legitimacy' of the next elected government in Bangladesh by their own observers' presence or absence during the polls in January 2007.

In their latest move by way of a press conference on May 8, European Union envoys in Bangladesh urged the political leadership to soften their rigid positions and reach an understanding through talks to pave the way for free, fair and transparent general elections acceptable both at home and abroad.

They also identified confrontational politics in Bangladesh as a serious problem, and stressed the need for a sincere dialogue among political parties to remove differences and reach a consensus on credible polls.

'It is not a secret that confrontational politics here is a problem and the process of dialogue is necessary. You need to give up certain positions if you want to reach a consensus,' said the EU's Head of Delegation, Ambassador Dr Stefan Frowein, on the eve of Europe Day. 'Time is running out fast for a negotiated settlement of pre-election wrangling and it is getting tighter. We are not interfering in politics here but as friends we are only expressing our concern.'

Well said and well received. Informed circles in Bangladesh do look upon the European example as an inspiration in the painful but prospective transformation that the world order is going through. The business community in Bangladesh is particularly grateful for the openings and preferences offered by the European Union as a whole as well as bilaterally by leading European countries to Bangladesh as a least developed country. The goodwill of Europe is not in question, and Bangladesh warmly felicitated the European Union on Europe Day.

But the envoy went on to say that the European Commission may not send observers to the next parliamentary polls if a technical experts' team, due to visit Bangladesh next month, concludes that the prevailing atmosphere will not lead to free and fair elections.

'Even if the commission's headquarters in Brussels takes a political decision to send observer missions, it will already be bad news for Bangladesh,' Ambassador Stefan Frowein later confided to a newsman. He explained that the delegation of election experts will carry out a two-week exploratory mission in Bangladesh, some time in June, to assess the pre-election atmosphere and also to verify the 'advisability and usefulness' of sending observers, numbering around 150, to the scheduled January 2007 elections.

The wild imagination of some speculators and commentators has found in that message a hint that perhaps the next general election in Bangladesh is not going to be held at all, or if held, may lead to an impugned administration which will have to yield to a 'regime change', as in Thailand. More cool-headed analysts suggest that Bangladesh is heading for derailment of the regular democratic process, a forewarning of which is being given by the European envoys.

They suggest that a civilian coup may take place in two ways. First, if the caretaker government, with or without agreed reforms, fails to obtain adequate participation or ensure conducive conditions for free and fair polls, it could then prolong its tenure by seeking the Supreme Court's constitutional advice for turning itself into a 'national' government of sorts, or it could declare an emergency which could be ratified within six months by re-convening the dissolved Parliament.

Another alternative could be that the President, using the power of parliamentary oversight vested in him during the caretaker period, might dismiss the caretaker government for its failure to hold elections within the stipulated time, and form a 'national' government of his own choice to rule until a 'conducive climate' to hold multi-party adversarial polls is regained.

Some speculators privately suggest that the civil society group, which has blamed the political leadership of both the ruling and opposition camps for failure to nominate 'honest and able' candidates and for indulging in horse-trading, is in reality promoting a covert agenda of Western or perhaps Indo-European masterminds to carry out a 'clinical operation' to sanitize the political system in Bangladesh. We believe and earnestly hope that such speculations are all groundless, as without popular mandate such imposed prescriptions will never work in Bangladesh.

- INS+Asian Tribune -

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