The upcoming national electionsby M Maniruzzaman Miah
The present government will complete its term in about two years’ time from now. Naturally there has to be an election, countrywide, based on adult franchise. A debate has however been going on for sometime now between the party in power and the main opposition in the parliament, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
The opposition wants the national election to be held under a non-party caretaker government so that elections can be neutral and acceptable to all. The party in power however holds a completely opposite view.
The party in power, the Awami League does not find anything wrong in continuing in office till its normal term comes to an end and wants to continue in office to hold the election. Their main argument is that the 13th amendment to the constitution which brought in the non-party caretaker government with a retired chief justice of the Supreme Court as its head to hold the parliamentary election has been declared unconstitutional. The Prime Minister perhaps forgets the events as to how and under what circumstances the 13th amendment to the constitution was enacted in 1996 during the last year of BNP government in power. During the five-year term of the BNP government it was the declared policy of the opposition not to allow the government to run peacefully. Records suggest that the opposition party the Awami League declared hartal (total closure) for 173 days and in the last lap of their anti-government agitation hartal continued for 63 days at a stretch to compel the BNP government of the day in power to accede to their demand for a constitutional change. Interesting to note is that their companions in their demand were Jamaat-i- Islami the members of which political group are now being held on charges of committing war crimes, and Jatiya Party of President Ershad whom they call an autocrat. And all the members of parliament of these three parties who were hand in glove with one another resigned from the parliament. This put the government at bay so that even if it wanted to bring about a constitutional amendment to suit the opposition parties’ demand it was just impossible because such changes would need endorsement by at least a third of the parliament members which was not there. Under such circumstances the only other course left to the ruling party was to hold a new election, form a new parliament so that the intended amendment by the opposition could be brought about legally. But then the unreasonable attitude of the opposition was such that they threatened the people by declaring that anyone who would go to the polling centres to cast votes would face dire consequences physically. Even under such frightful situation some did go to the polling booth. The election commission declared the results whatever they were worth. Immediately after, Begum Zia formed a cabinet, went to the parliament, tabled an amendment as was desired by the three-party opposition combine. After the amendment was passed in the parliament Begum Zia went to the President, tendered her resignation and requested him to form a non-party caretaker government with full authorities to hold a neutral national election. Interesting to note is that when she came out of the Bangabhaban she was greeted and cheered by a huge assembly of city-dwellers, which was a proof enough to demonstrate the common city-dwellers support for her action. Soon after a non-party caretaker government took over and an election was held in which AL won.
But now that the opposition wants a non-party caretaker government to hold the national election, the AL turns a deaf ear to that for the simple reason that the party in power knows very well that their popular support has reached the nadir. The people know very well that whatever the government says everyday of their success in governance, by beating their own drums, is all based on falsehood. They know that from their personal experiences in daily life.
The government and their supporters are crying hoarse to tell the people that it is no longer possible to revive the constitutional provision which has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The true story of the annulment of the 13th amendment is quite different from what the government spokesmen are saying. The factual situation is that the caretaker system was enacted in 1996 to save the country from the brink of an abyss to which the AL pushed it. Anyway, the fact of the matter is that Justice Khairul Huq, the former chief justice, has not yet written his judgment as yet. However as I understand from a note by a distinguished lawyer, who is in fact a practicing barrister of the Supreme Court the short order by the learned judge may be summarised as follows:
The thirteenth amendment is prospectively declared void.
However, the elections to the tenth and the eleventh parliaments, that is the next two ones, may be held under the thirteenth amendment.
Parliament may bring necessary amendments so that the Supreme Court judges may be excluded from the caretaker government.
The judgment has not yet been written by the learned judge. But then the government is taking the pronouncement of the judge as a gospel truth and has amended the constitution in post haste, inserted the amended portions in the constitution and the new constitution is available in the book shops. The government party men say that since the amendment does not allow any caretaker government therefore the opposition demand cannot be accepted. What a volte face by the government!
People say that there is not one single administrative wing of the government, which will be involved in election, which has not been manned by people with leanings to the government. Even a person of the stature of Dr Kamal Hossain in one of his speeches said that the judiciary, the election commission, the administration, the police are all national wealth. But why have they been politicised along party lines?
Now the question is, will all these partisan employees be involved in all matters dealing with election or simply in rigging of votes? Under such circumstances how can the ruling power expect that the opposition will set their feet in the muddy ground of election only to be caught there unaware!
Even then the opposition BNP may go to the parliament and put forward their proposal for a non-party caretaker government so that the general mass of the people may not think that the opposition is foiling the election.
The writer is former Vice Chancellor, Dhaka University
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