Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
    Volume 11 |Issue 34| August 31, 2012 |


 Cover Story
 Current Affairs
 Special Feature
 A Roman Column
 Food for Thought
 Star Diary
 Book Review
 Write to Mita

   SWM Home

Current Affairs

The Dreams of a Deposed Dictator

Shakhawat Liton

Deposed dictator HM Ershad, the all-powerful chairman of Jatiya Party, convened a joint meeting of the presidents and general secretaries of his party's district and upazila units on June 23 this year. He convened the meeting at the auditorium of Institute of Diploma Engineers to hear the opinions of the grassroots level leaders. In his inaugural speech, the former military ruler reiterated that his party would independently contest the next parliamentary election. “It doesn't matter who will join the polls and who won't. We will contest on our own.”

“I want to hear what the people are thinking and whether they want Jatiya Party or any others. What do you want? Tell me frankly. Don't feel any hesitation. I will take steps according to your demand,” Ershad pleaded.

Shyamnagar upazila unit General Secretary Hafez Abdur Rashid took the opportunity and did not feel any hesitation to boldly speak the truth. “Sir, we can't trust your statements. You say one thing in the morning and go back on that in the afternoon. Leave the grand alliance if you want to contest the polls independently.”

A number of grassroots level leaders echoed Rashid. The former military ruler however is clever enough to dodge the grassroots level leaders' words by claiming," This is nothing but propaganda. Ershad is not a man given to doublespeak.”

But Ershad never hesitates to doublespeak. There are many instances of it. Ershad, in middle of June of 2007, had appointed Barrister Anisul Islam Mahmud as acting chairman of his party and had announced that he would continue as the party chief until the next council. He even announced that he would not run for chairmanship in the next council. "The council will elect a new leadership. But I'll stay with the party to work for it," he announced.

But he did not honour his own words. When his party's national council was held after the December 29, 2008 parliamentary polls, he contested and was elected as the chairman.

Ershad, over the past two decades, tied knots with both BNP and AL to get personal benefits, particularly to get rid of dozens of criminal and corruption cases filed against him after his ouster from power in 1990.

What the grassroots level leaders said at the view exchange meeting on June 23 about Ershad is nothing new. He is an unpredictable man. When his party's grassroots level leaders cannot trust him, how will the country's people keep confidence in him and give the mandate to this unpredictable man to run the country?

Unfortunately, the confrontational culture of politics which has developed thanks to the unhealthy competition between the Awami League and BNP encourages Ershad to dream of returning the state power through next parliamentary elections. Ershad's recent high profile visit to India and his meetings with Indian President Pranab Mukharjee and Prime Minister Manmohon Singh have sparked speculation whether India wants the former military dictator to be the next ruler of Bangladesh.

Whatever the prevailing political situation is– can Ershad, who committed a grave crime in 1982 by grabbing the state power by overthrowing an elected government, be an alternative to Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia? Are his track records better than Hasina and Khaleda? Can Jatiya Party be considered as an alternative to Awami League and BNP? The more crucial question is – whether the Jatiya Party is able to win the polls. What were the performances of the Jatiya Party in previous elections?

How he grabbed state power
On March 24, 1988, the then chief of army staff, HM Ershad, seized the state power overthrowing President Abdus Sattar in a military coup and imposed martial law. He declared himself the chief martial law administrator (CMLA), suspended the constitution – the supreme law of the land, and dissolved the then parliament and the council of ministers appointed by Sattar.

CMLA Ershad had announced that the martial law regulations, orders and instructions to be made by him would be the country's supreme law and sections of other laws inconsistent with them would be void. Although he had installed Justice Abul Fazal Mohammad Ahsanuddin Choudhury as the president on 27 March 1982, the president did not have any authority as the martial law proclamation categorically said the president would not exercise any power or perform any function without the advice and the approval of the CMLA.

Ershad vested the state's executive power with the CMLA, paving the way for him to exercise power either directly or through people authorised by him. He also vested country's legislative powers with the CMLA.

During the martial law regime, the Supreme Court ceased to derive any power from the constitution that was suspended following the March 24 proclamation. People's fundamental rights were suspended. They were not allowed to go to the court seeking remedy against violation of any right.

After grabbing the state power, Ershad moved to enter political life by transforming himself into a politician. Under his direct patronisation and supervision Jatiya Party was formally formed on January 1, 1986, after over two years of taking steps to float a political party. He became chief of the party.

At the beginning of 1984, Justice Ahsanuddin was forced to step down from presidency and Ershad grabbed the presidency. He arranged the farcical referendum on March 21, 1985 seeking people's support to his rule to consolidate his power.

Then Ershad moved to hold the presidential polls to give legitimacy his presidency. Amid boycott of major parties, Ershad was elected president in the polls held on October 15, 1986.

Then his government moved to hold the parliamentary election. His Jatiya Party won the farcical parliamentary polls held on May 7, 1986. The parliament formed through the farcical election passed the constitution seventh amendment bill ratifying the March 24 proclamation and validating all orders and actions made under the proclamations, regulations and orders. [The Supreme Court has declared the constitution's seventh amendment illegal and void.]

Poll performance and dream of power
When Ersahd was in power, the parliamentary polls were held on May 7, 1986 and his Jatiya Party got 153 out of total 300 seats. BNP-led alliance did not join the polls. The Awami League-led opposition camp contested the polls which were largely rigged in favour of Ershad's Jatiya Party. Faced with the opposition's street agitation, Ershad dissolved the third parliament. The fourth parliamentary election was held in 1988 amid boycott of both AL and BNP-led opposition parties. In the polls, Ershad's Jatiya Party won 251 seats. But he was forced to step down in December 1990 in a mass upsurge.

The golden era of Jatiya Party was over in 1990. In 1991 parliamentary polls, the party got 35 seats, in 1996 polls it secured 32 seats and in 2001 polls it obtained 14 seats. Joining the AL-led electoral alliance, Jatiya Party got 27 seats in the 2008 parliamentary polls.

The records speak loud and clear about Ershad's strength. How does he plan to return to state power? The man who was supposed to be declared politically dead seems to have forgotten his track record and started to believe that the country's people have also forgotten his past misdeeds.

People do not forget that the man who is dreaming of returning to power was convicted on moral turpitude and lost his membership in Parliament in 2000 and was disqualified from contesting the 2001 parliamentary polls. Will people accept such a person to rule the country again?


The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012