Indeed, today is the first day when the 9th Parliament is no more. A new journey begins for the nation. If there was no election, of whatever hue, the country would face a difficult constitutional crisis. There would not be an easy transition to the 10th Parliament. By all counts the election, however non-participatory, still met this vital constitutional requirement. The basic question that remains is its legitimacy.
A government under Sheikh Hasina has been formed by the president. The prime minister has selected her 'dream cabinet.' It consists of very senior parliamentarians who are veterans of our War of Liberation. They are combined with young leaders who are wielding the levers of power for the first time. With such an admixture of experience and youth this combination could be excellent for governance. However, several factors could still short-circuit its effectiveness.
One challenge facing it is its moral bearing. The members of the cabinet do not have a role model to follow. The prime minister herself, however hard she may try to be that, does not always have the opportunity to show the way. She is always under immense pressure from all sides and many things slip through her without her knowledge. There is no inner cabinet mechanism that can check such slips. She needs the support of her senior cabinet and political colleagues to check corruption and non-diligence.
Second, this time the PM has a vision about the future development of our country. Not only the Millennium Development Goals -- the 2021 targets -- but also the grand vision of seeing the country graduate into a developed country by 2041. These are indeed praiseworthy policy parameters. But how much they are practically attainable depends on several factors. The country's executive authority, which is vested in the PM, can work in tandem with the parliament. But a creaking judiciary, which unfortunately remains stuck in time, needs to be rescued. All the three organs of state must share the same vision of the future. They should be able to craft their own programmes to be a part of this great architecture. To have any one work out of sync with the other two would mean a slowing down and a breakdown of the process.
Third, if the people in general do not share the PM'S vision then, however sincere the government is, the end result would be much less than perfect. It means that the government needs to change, adjust and recalibrate its policy goals to meet the people's aspirations. The government at all times needs to enjoy the confidence of the people in order to meet the genuine requirements of the governed.
All this needs to start from today. The government should understand, and be under no illusion, that there is a 'honeymoon period' it can enjoy. It cannot enjoy a free lunch as they say. It is this urgency with which it requires to enter a dialogue with the leaders of the unofficial opposition, who did not participate in electing this government. It was a serious misjudgment on the part of (until recently the official opposition) BNP not to go into battle with AL. The people and the nation must not suffer because of a major political error on the part of this party. AL should step in and show the way.
The first 100 days of this government will be a defining time for what is to come. So far, AL has been fairly busy in celebrating its victory in a modest way. However, the PM is travelling throughout the countryside and looking at the woes of the minority community and the marginalised. In some areas Al workers arranged for children to enjoy a day's vacation out in the blazing sun to welcome the arrival of a minister who was 'elected' uncontested. How disgraceful and condemnable! The PM's office should not only stop this but also penalise those who enjoy this sort of adulation.
It is heartening to know that the government at the highest level has already identified six projects which are mega in nature and demand priority attention. This prioritisation would help develop infrastructure in a smart and fast-track manner. This would give impetus to the future growth of industries and services. The PM also needs to think deeply about what she needs to do about the strong opposition elements in the country. She must contemplate incorporating them in some way in the development process. A viable opposition inside parliament is another challenge before this government. An opposition that speaks with an open mind and constructively criticises government policies is what this government needs now. A society that seems to be politically split down the middle needs to be healed and strengthened.
Bangladesh seems to have quietly and imperceptibly slipped back to business. Life has quickly returned to normal. Traffic jams are there and supply lines to industries and retail restored. The Stock Market is doing reasonably well, so also the remittance flows. In fact, all these will restore confidence in the new government very fast.
Western countries that have criticised the 'unelected election' are also quiet now. They know that the government needs to carry on with its constitutional task and then at some time bring back things to order. They have given some space to the government to start its new term with a degree of confidence. The government has to engage its foreign friends in a more convincing way in the coming days. It has to change its foreign policy orientation and place more emphasis on human rights and political freedom. The world must know that Bangladesh places equal if not more importance to these issues than in the past.
What is new in Bangladesh's agenda is its future. The young and the adolescents are crowding out the old. They are rearing to go, to learn, to build, to create and join the greater world. Old ideologies and old thoughts have pushed out this new generation. They want better. The first 100 days of this government should be the harbinger of what is in store for them. Shiekh Hasina, by adept holding of the hands of the young, will have to prove that she is capable of being a leader who can craft our future.
The writer is a former Ambassador and a commentator on contemporary affairs. E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org