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      Volume 12 |Issue 01| January 04, 2013 |


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Current Affairs


Leaders of both the parties speak of democracy with every breath they take, but when it comes to practising democracy in their fold the leaders deprive their own party members of their voting rights

Shakhawat Liton

Aren't we, the people of Bangladesh, living in a fool's paradise with the hope that the political parties will abide by their own constitutions?

The top politicians who have been ruling the country over the decades do not do what they are supposed to do, they do not respect their own parties' constitutions, they establish autocracy in their own folds, yet they talk about democracy all the time. They tell people to believe that they are struggling to consolidate democracy.

If a party does not practice democracy in its own fold, how will it promote democracy when it is in state power? If the party does not abide by its own constitution, how will it respect and ensure the enforcement of the country's constitution when it is in state power?

So, no one needs to be a political scientist to read the meaning of democracy and rule of law in Bangladesh. If he or she followed the just concluded national council of Awami League, the ruling party, s/he must get an obvious picture of the state of (!) democracy in the country.

In the cold morning of December 29, over 6,000 councillors, along with a huge number of delegates, gathered at the ruling AL national council held at the historic Suhrawardy Udyan in the capital. At the inaugural ceremony of the council, the all-powerful AL President Sheikh Hasina spoke strongly of her party and government's 'sincerity' and 'love' for democracy.

She announced that her party would accept any results of the next parliamentary elections. In a true democratic voice, she said: "The people of Bangladesh will vote for us in the next polls, if they like us. But if otherwise, we will accept whatever verdict they give. This is our ideal and motto.”

Al’s chairperson Sheikh Hasina addressing her party’s council. Photo: Bss

Announcing her firm determination, she also said that democracy would continue to prevail and no one would be allowed to play with it since the country had to shed blood to restore democracy. “It is the principle and responsibility of Awami League to protect people's democratic and constitutional rights. Awami League will continue to carry out the responsibilities.”

What Sheikh Hasina, also the prime minister, said in her inaugural address to the council undoubtedly reflects the true spirit of democracy. But a surprise was waiting behind the scenes. Were her party men allowed to exercise their voting rights in the council session? The way the script was written for the high voltage drama was unfolded at the end of the day. The all-powerful councillors appeared powerless and they had to act precisely the way the script prompted them to be.

Sheikh Hasina and Syed Ashraful Islam were re-elected AL president and general secretary unopposed at the closed door council session held behind closed doors. They were also given the power to choose other members of the AL central committee in a clear violation of the party charter and Representation of People Order.

The AL charter mandates the councillors to elect all leaders, including a treasurer; 13 members of the party presidium, its highest policymaking body; 31 secretaries, including three joint general secretaries and seven organising secretaries.

The party chief can only select 26 members of its highest decision-making forum, the AL Central Working Committee led by the president. Also as a political party registered under the RPO, the Awami League was supposed to elect the entire central committee.

But the all-powerful councillors delegated their powers to Sheikh Hasina and Ashraf to do the job of choosing other members of the AL central committee. In eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik's view, voting rights can be delegated to others in a private company where the largest shareholder has the controlling authority.

"Similarly, our political parties seem to function as privately owned companies where the top leaders exercise the power of ownership," Malik told The Daily Star, adding: "Hence, it is not surprising that a councillor delegates his/her voting rights to the 'absolute owner of the party'."

AL leader advocate Rahmat Ali, who was the chief election commissioner at the council, also acknowledged that voting rights cannot be delegated. He however claimed that the way he conducted the election session in the council contradicted neither the party charter nor the RPO.

The story refuses to end here. In another violation of the party charter, councillors have empowered newly elected AL President Sheikh Hasina to make changes, if necessary, in the charter and declaration. As per the party charter, the council can exercise its powers to amend the constitution and manifesto and it approved some proposals placed by Hasina, also the prime minister, to bring changes in the declaration and in the party constitution. The councillors then mandated Sheikh Hasina to bring further changes, if needed.

What was the scene at the inaugural session of the council? It was difficult to understand that it was a party's national council. The party's activities were not highlighted there. Didn't any unit or leader or worker of AL across the country do anything good which could be displayed before other councillors to inspire them to do good work? It is true that many AL leaders and workers across the country did many wrongdoings which defamed the party's image in last four years. But it is not believable that none of the leaders or workers did nothing exemplary in this time. Then why were the good examples not highlighted in the council to inspire others?

Two documentaries highlighting some successes of the AL-led government were displayed before the councillors who came from districts and upazilas. What was the point? The grassroots-level leaders were asked to publicise the government's success and to make people understand about it. Isn't it funny? Don't people know the real story? Don't people know about the successes and failures of the current government? Why does the government feel so shaky if it has done many good things in the last four years?

This year's council was a repetition of the last. The last council in July 2009, too, elected Sheikh Hasina and Ashraf as the top-most leaders and gave them the authority to pick other office bearers. The way the top AL leaders in 2009 manoeuvred the council had set an example before the main opposition BNP. The BNP national council held in December 2009 did the same. And whenever the BNP will hold its next council in 2013, it will of course do what the AL did on December 29, 2012.

These two parties have been ruling the country since the restoration of democracy through a mass upsurge against Gen HM Ershad's autocratic regime. Both of them showed their true democratic face during their party councils. The parties that do not allow their own members to exercise their voting rights, how will they allow the ordinary masses to exercise their voting power?

Hours before being re-elected as general secretary of AL, Syed Ashraf, also the LGRD minister, in the inaugural session of the party council said the country would be run as per the constitution and the party as per its charter. Can Ashraf say for sure that his party is being run as per its charter, even after holding a stage-managed council?

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.

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