In all likelihood a cabinet is going to be formed today. But to what purpose?
That the so called general elections, on the basis of which the 10th Parliament is being constituted was a farce and a mockery of the priniciples and practice of democracy is a fact, and a fact beyond all shadows of doubt cannot be questioned by anyone. Even government ministers have reiterated that holding of the show of the elections was a constitutional necessity and have tried to defend the process as a requirement for fulfilling constitutional obligation, which again, was of their own motivated making. There was no election observer from any foreign country or international organization as it was considered that the whole governmental exercise was not worthy of being called an election. Majority seats in the parliament had already been declared as uncontested and the selected lone candidates were declared MPs without any vote what so ever. It is significant and is an event of important consideration that no foreign government or organization has congratulated the so-called victorious party in the elections. Their reactions have been, to say in one word, negative.
Interestingly, the Anandabazar Patrika of Calcutta, which is generally appreciative of the AL government's keenness in looking after Indian interest, has unequivocally questioned the legitimacy and even the legality of the elections and the government which is being formed consequently. In its publication of January 10, it said-- " as a result of the non-participation of the main opposition party, the general elections in Bangladesh this time has certainly been on-sided, only 22% vote have been cast and the ruling party has again assumed power practically without any competition. Naturally, the validity of the new government is questionable, or even straight illegal."
I am tempted to quote two more sentences from the newspaper as they clearly indicate the course of activities, the new "government" will be expected to take. It says, " the way it is important to question the validity of the empowered government it is equally important that BNP- Jamaat, in their activities showing non-cooperation or disapproval, follow democratic practices". It also suggests that New Delhi ( meaning the Indian government) should focus on this to bring the issue in the international arena ( My translation from the Samakal, January 11). Even my good friend Abdul Gaffar Chowdhury, who is no lover of BNP, has on the same day written an article captioned " How many days this parliament and the government will sustain?" Written-- " under the circumstances, I will, with humility, make a request to Sheikh Hasina that she should not take the result of this election as any mandate or support for ruling the country for a term of five years." In other words, this should be taken as a temporary transitional phase.
Perhaps, for the first time in the history of Bangladesh, all development partners of Bangladesh, both bilateral and multilateral, have urged on the urgent necessity of holding an inclusive and credible election. The US Senate, after serious and prolonged deliberations, unanimously passed a resolution which is significant and meaningful, and should be taken in all seriousness. Six relevant issues all pertaining to the so-called recently held elections have been focused on. The emphasis is on holding a free, non-partisan, fair, transparent and participatory election which can be treated as acceptable.
The resolution condemns political violence and points out that because of the political impasse, many hindrances and obstacles have cropped up for Bangladesh in her efforts to meet important national challenges. The Senate also endorsed the efforts made by the UN representative Oscar Fernandes, thereby indicating that the ruling party should immediately resume the forsaken negotiations between AL and BNP. BNP has already asked for it. The Resolution also points out to the necessity of ceasation of human rights violation, independence of the Judiciary and return of the autonomy ( freedom from governmental control) of the Grameen Bank.
Besides the UN and the US, the governments of UK, Germany, France, China, Korea, Japan -- in fact all development partners of Bangladesh have expressed their grave concern at the happenings in Bangladesh, as their post "election" reaction. The European Union Statement aptly summarizes them all. It says-- " as part of our bilateral relations , the EU has consistently engaged with the Bangladesh to support the consolidation of democracy. In this context, the EU has repeatedly called on all parties to create favourable conditions for transparent , inclusive and credible election" further more it regretted the fact that such conditions did not materialize and " the people of Bangladesh were not given an opportunity to express fully their democratic choice". The EU also urged (actually the ruling party) to engage in a genuine dialogue to agree on a mutually acceptable way forward to hold transparent, inclusive and credible elections, putting the interests of the people of Bangladesh first.
I do not know the shape and nature of the cabinet which is perhaps will be sworn in today, in spite of the fact that the legality and the legitimacy of the so-called 10th Parliament has been strongly questioned as violation of the spirit 123 (3) ( B) and Article 148 (3) of the present constitution. However, keeping in view the background and the question of legality and legitimacy of the election and results their of, the new cabinet should, in order of priority, take up the following assignment:
(a) Engage in a meaningful and result oriented dialogue with BNP to hold an immediate fair and inclusive general elections. For resumption of the UN sponsored dialogue, the ruling party should immediately specify a date and place.
(b) Release all the BNP political leaders and workers of BNP who has been held on the basis of fake charges and discontinue political harassment.
(c) Withdraw all restriction on normal democratic activities of political parties and permit them to hold political rallies, human chains, meetings and other usual function; so that the parties do not have to take recourse to other activities which can turn violent or which could be misguided by miscreants to create violence and engage in destructive activities.
(d) The house and the office of the leader of opposition and the offices of BNP should be freed from restrictive control of the government.
(e) The atrocious and condemnable attack on the Hindu community should be immediately stopped and the culprits given exemplary punishment. It is not understood as to why and how the government failed to prevent such criminal activities, though all law enforcing agencies were in position and alert. Even request for help by victims were not immediately responded by governmental authorities. It has been alleged, even by victims that the ruling party men had involvement or complicity in such heinous attack. Immediate judicial inquiry should be held so that the truth is revealed. Communal peace and harmony is a sine-qua-non for holding peaceful election and ensuring such a situation is a prime governmental responsibility.
The only meaningful purpose the new "cabinet" may have to address the problems indicated above. It should be aware of the fact that it is essentially a very temporary "government", in office, only to fulfill " a constitutional obligation".
For a developing country like Bangladesh, it is absolutely necessary that we get full and willing cooperation from our development partners and organizations.
Unless the government is democratically elected through a free and fair election and unless democratic practices are permitted, our bilateral partners will not find it possible to cooperate with us in our development activities. With my long personal involvement in international development cooperation, I know it well that even for international organization like the UNDP, World Bank, IMF, ADB, IDB and others, it would be extremely difficult come to our assistance and support. The EU and some other important countries like the US and Canada may even impose sanctions. Our trade and commerce will suffer immeasurably, export will decline while the national economy badly hit. As a result, the worst victim would be the poor people and our beloved mother land Bangladesh.
We do not deserve this, particularly for the way and principles of which we earned our costly freedom.
We do hope the new "cabinet" will realise their priorities and come to terms with the reality of the situation.
The writer is advisor to chairperson, BNP and development expert and former international civil servant.