If a ruling party wants to demean any of its prominent leaders who is also widely acceptable to people, it should elect him as the President of the country and keep abusing the high office of the presidency for partisan purpose. This will obviously make the widely acceptable leader controversial. No opposition parties and group of individuals being aggrieved by the activities of the government and the ruling party will rush to the President seeking his action to resolve the crisis. President Abdul Hamid has become the latest glaring example of this. A man with a long political career and wisdom has now been subject to the Awami League-led government's whims.
Hamid, who was elected as the President in April last year following the death of then President Zillur Rahman, delivered his first address to the parliament on January 29 at the inaugural sitting of the new Jatiya Sangsad. Many parts of his address are really appalling. In his 18-page address, he portrayed a rosy picture of the past government's performance. He even claimed that the grand alliance government led by Sheikh Hasina has been fully successful in building a progressive, prosperous, modern and non-communal Bangladesh based on the spirit of the Liberation War, and establishing rule of law through holding trials of war criminals. He did not find any failure of the Hasina's past government to cite. He overlooked many disastrous incidents including the share market scandal, the Padma bridge debacle and Sonali Bank-Hall Mark Loan scam. He did not say anything about how the past Hasina government miserably failed to improve the country's political situation and governance. For the deterioration of the political situation, he blamed the BNP-led alliance and urged them to shun the path of confrontation and forge a consensus through dialogue. But who will take the initiative for the talks? Of course, either the government or the ruling AL will have to take the move. But the president did not say anything about it.
He also made distorted claims. In his address he said: "For the first time, an elected government handed over power to another elected government by upholding the constitution. This has been a remarkable achievement in the area of democratic continuity." This is a reflection of Hasina's claim made on January 19. But the fact is that the February 15, 1996 parliamentary election held under the then BNP-led government had seen the same phenomenon. So, the president's claim is not true.
His other claim on the mode of the January 5 parliamentary election is not correct. He claimed that people had cast their votes 'spontaneously' and people had given the 'mandate' to the government for building a Bangladesh in the light of the spirit of the great Liberation War, free from hunger poverty, terrorism and communalism. But the fact is people were not able to cast their vote 'spontaneously.' The January 5 election was the deadliest in the history of Bangladesh. Only 40 percent voters, as claimed by the Election Commission, exercised their right to vote. And 153 MPs, more than half of the 300 members of the parliament, were elected uncontested without a single vote being cast. Then how did the people give their mandate?
It is true that the President had just read out the scripted address which was prepared by the Hasina-led cabinet. But why did the president agree with the contents of his address which contained distorted facts?
Content of his address has triggered some controversy. It will not brighten his image and uphold the dignity of the presidency. Rather this address has lengthened the saga of his inability to uphold the dignity of the House, prompting people to compare him with his predecessors who were also mired in controversies for their controversial activities. His predecessor Iajuddin Ahmed was labeled as 'Yesuddin” for his inability to uphold the dignity of the office and for always performing on the advice of the BNP. Iajuddin never considered whether the advice was right or wrong. Iajuddin's successor Zillur Rahman, who had a long political career also miserably failed to uphold the dignity of the high office. He had pardoned convicted killers on the advice of the Hasina's past government.
Zillur's successor Hamid remained silent when the country plunged into political turmoil centred on the 10th parliamentary election at the end of 2013. The two rival camps AL and BNP failed to reach any consensus on the form of the election time government. When Hamid was the Speaker in the ninth parliament, a ruling accused a High Court judge of violating the constitution. But when he was acting as the President following the death of Zillur Rahman, he appointed the same judge as the judge of the Appellate Division. In this case, he did not hesitate to do so. Rather, by making the appointment, he seemed to have proved his loyalty to the Hasina-led government.
General Mahmudul Islam in his book “Constitutional Law of Bangladesh” says, “A man of high stature, integrity and experience holding the office of the President can exert great influence on the executive government by way of advice and counseling and play a great role in building a bridge between the government and the opposition." Unfortunately, the country still does not have a President who is able to uphold the dignity of the high office of the presidency.
Now for his address to the parliament that he delivered on January 29, the House will thank him by passing a resolution. The House began a marathon discussion on his address on Tuesday. The discussion may last for more than 40 hours. Ruling AL-led alliance MPs have started wholeheartedly appreciating him for his address. Many of them started labeling his address 'historic' and 'time befitting'. What will this prove? If you please the government by making even false statements, the government will give you a big 'thank you'!
In her inaugural address to the first sitting of the present Jatiya Sangsad which was constituted keeping the ninth parliament in existence, newly elected Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury said that this parliament added a new chapter to the journey of country's democracy. She did not explain how this parliament had done so. She was elected MP (unopposed) in a hurriedly hold by-election and later was elected as the Speaker, also unopposed. The two ruling AL senior leaders who proposed and supported her candidacy for the post of Speaker were elected as MPs unopposed in the January 5 election. And the main opposition in parliament, Jatiya Party with its dual role both in the opposition and in the cabinet has also been an unprecedented case.
So, considering all the aspects it is true that the 10th parliament has added a new chapter to the country's democracy. But the question is whether the new chapter is bright or dark.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.