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    Volume 11 |Issue 35| September 07, 2012 |


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Current Affairs

Photo: Amirul Rajiv

The Uncompromising Leader

Shakhawat Liton

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of the major political parties in the country, has turned 35 last September 1. Its Chairperson Khaleda Zia has been leading the party for around 28 years in a row. More than this, she has also become the only fortunate politician in Bangladesh to be elected as the prime minister thrice in her political life of 28 years. On the other hand, it can be said that Khaleda, widow of former military ruler Ziaur Rahman who formed the BNP when he was in power, led the party thrice to assume state power. And under her leadership, the BNP is now dreaming of returning to state power again through the next parliamentary election. And there is an opportunity for her to become the premier again.

Over the past 28 years, she has become the unparallel and supreme leader of her party. There is no one within the BNP who can challenge her leadership. And there is no one who can appear as a threat to foil her plan to make her elder son Tarique Rahman the next chairperson of BNP. All prevailing signs indicate that Tarique, who was made the all-powerful vice-chairman of BNP in December 2009, will lead the party for another indefinite period, leaving no scope for others to head the party.

But the crucial question is how much has she contributed to ensure democratic practice within her party. If there is little scope of practicing democracy within a major political party, which ruled the country for long time, how will the party contribute to strengthen the country's democracy?

The Rise of a Widow
After his ouster from the presidency by then army chief General HM Ershad on March 24, 1982, BNP chief Abdus Sattar had gradually become inactive in the party. At this critical juncture, Khaleda Zia, who did not have any experience in politics, was made vice-chairperson of the party in March 1983. At an extended meeting of the party, she made her first political speech in April the same year. And she was elected chairperson of the party on May 10, 1984.

Irked by her leadership, some BNP leaders, particularly Shamsul Huda Chowdhury and Professor Dr MA Matin, who were foreign and home ministers respectively in the cabinet of President Ziaur Rahman, had planned to split the party and in March they submitted the three-point demand to the then party chief Justice Sattar. The demands include removal of then Secretary General professor Badrudozza Chowdhury, dubbing him as a non-political man, reorganising the party's executive committee and democratisation of the party charter. They had split the BNP. In April, 1983, the BNP's national executive committee expelled the Huda-Matin group from the BNP.

In the middle of 1983, the movement against HM Ershad got strengthened and the seven-party-alliance was formed under the leadership of BNP. But the party again faced a split in 1984 led by Shah Azizur Rahman, who was prime minister in the cabinet of President Zia. But the move did not succeed. In 1988, the party again faced the split when the then party Secretary General Obaidur Rahman left the BNP and formed a new party.

But Khaleda Zia was fortunate for most of party leaders and activists remained loyal to her leadership, declining to join the dissident leaders. By refusing to join the 1986 parliamentary polls under General Ershad's government, she appeared as an “uncompromising leader”. Like all other opposition parties, her BNP also boycotted the 1988 parliamentary polls held under Ershad's government. Her party, which got huge support from people during the rule of Gen Zia, consolidated its strength over the years of street agitation against the Ershad regime. After the fall of Ershad on December 6, 1990, the fifth parliamentary election was held in February 1991 under a makeshift caretaker government led by then Chief Justice Shahbuddin Ahmad. And the BNP under the leadership of Khaleda appeared as a majority party by bagging 140 out of 300 parliamentary seats. With support of Jamaat-e-Islami, her party formed the government and she was elected as the prime minister.

Her “uncompromising” leadership however could not develop the political culture of “compromise”. Her government and party have vehemently refused to accept opposition parties' demand for the introduction of the caretaker government system. The refusal prompted the opposition parties to gear up street agitation against her government from the middle of 1994. In face of opposition agitation, her government dissolved parliament at the end of 1995 and went for fresh parliamentary polls amid a boycott by the then opposition parties Awami League, Jatiya Party, Jamaat-e-Islami and others. Her party won a landslide victory in the February 15, 1996 farcical polls and she was again elected as the prime minister. But in face of a popular non-cooperation movement, she resigned as the premier at the end of March 1996.

Under her leadership her party tied an electoral knot with anti-liberation force Jamaat-e-Islami before the 2001 parliamentary polls. The alliance got a landslide victory in the polls. She was again elected as the prime minister. Her government also earned notoriety for the unbridled corruption committed by her ministers, MPs and party men, and also the infamous Hawa Bhaban run by her son Tarique.

Like February 15, 1996, her party moved to hold a farcical parliamentary election by installing the caretaker government-led by her party nominated President Iajuddin Ahmed. But the plan fell flat and the country plunged into a political crisis at the end of 2006 and early of 2007, and state of emergency was declared to avert the political turmoil centring the parliamentary polls.

A Slap on the Reform Bid
The call for reform of the political parties had grown louder during the state of emergency proclaimed in January 2007. The way the major political parties, particularly AL, BNP and Jatiya Party, were being run proved there was an acute lack of democratic practice within the parties. The minus two formula was conceived by the then authorities. Khaleda and her archrival AL chief Sheikh Hasina were detained. But the regime failed to bring effective changes within the parties in the name of reform. They also failed to improve the country's overall situation. So, they were looking for a peaceful exit by holding the parliamentary polls. They negotiated with Khaleda and Hasina and freed them.

BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia, who was detained on September 3, 2007, was freed on September 11, 2008 from her detention. She convened the party's national standing committee's (NSC) meeting on September 13. With Khaleda in the chair, the meeting unanimously decided that its chairperson Khaleda Zia will lead the party for life. In so deciding, the NSC, the party's highest policy making body, ignored the party's own constitution. Faced with widespread criticism the next day she "humbly declined" to accept the generosity.

Later, the party's senior leaders seem to have engaged themselves in a competition in giving Khaleda more power. Tarique was elected vice-chairman to lead the party in Khaleda's absence. And if the post of chairperson falls vacant, he will assume the responsibilities and hold those for the rest of the tenure.

Khaleda, who is also the leader of the opposition in the current parliament, has opted for boycotting the House proceeding. She joined only seven sittings in the last three and half a years of the current parliament. In so doing, she has created a bizarre precedent of poor presence in the House, breaking even her own previous record. As the leader of the opposition, she attended 28 sittings during the five-year-tenure of the seventh parliament.

Will she remain “uncompromising” in the coming days to continue her House boycott? Will her party under her “uncompromising leadership” enforce hartals and other political programs to gear up street agitation to force the AL-led government to restore now defunct caretaker government system to oversee the next parliamentary election to ensure return of her party to power? Only time can tell.

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.


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