A demand raised by some eminent citizens on December 28 has infuriated Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The next day, she has slammed the eminent citizens for the demand of postponement of the January 5 parliamentary election in which her ruling Awami League is set to get a two-third majority. And after January 5, she will be sworn in as the prime minister again. As the opposition has boycotted the vote, there is no risk of defeat for Hasina.
It was expected that Hasina would react sharply to the demand for postponement of the election. “These eminent citizens benefited the most during the era of undemocratic and unconstitutional system in the past…the key players of the 1/11 have again become vocal these days.”
Hasina's statement is not factually correct. The eminent citizens who have raised the demand were not benefited most during the past Fakhruddin Ahmed-led caretaker government that was installed following the 1/11 changeover in 2007. Everyone knows that the changeover has enormously benefited Hasina and her AL. The changeover prevented the then caretaker government-led by Iajuddin Ahmed from holding the general election scheduled for January 22, 2007. If it were held, her archrival Khaleda Zia would have assumed the office of the Prime Minister again.
The changeover took place in a grave political turmoil caused by violent street agitation waged by the AL-led alliance to resist the election. And after the changeover, it was the Fakhruddin Ahmed-led caretaker government that held the ninth parliamentary election on December 29, 2008 in which the AL won a landslide, and Hasina was sworn in as the Prime Minister.
The way the Prime Minister has blasted the eminent citizens however has questioned her democratic norms and values. She has been claiming to uphold the democratic process in one hand, and on the other she has been trying to gag freedom of speech, a fundamental element needed to form a democratic society. When the premier was blasting the eminent citizens on Sunday, law enforcers were on the streets with the only aim to resist BNP-led opposition men to take to the streets with the demand for the cancellation of the January 5 polls. In face of the brute force, the opposition men were unable to take part in the 'March for Democracy' programme on December 29. Opposition Leader Khaleda Zia also had to bear the brunt. She was kept confined at her Gulshan residence and was not allowed to go to her party's central office in Nayapaltan, the venue for the marchers to get together. Obstructed by the police, Khaleda reacted furiously. To a female police officer, she said, “Which district you hail from? Gopali [Gopalganj, home district of her rival Hasina]? The name of Gopalganj district will be changed … Gopalganj will cease to exist.”
Thanks to the mushrooming of private satellite television channels, people watched how she launched a fierce verbal attack to her archrival Hasina and some law enforcers. This only exposed intolerance and undemocratic side of her leadership.
Finally, Khaleda Zia could not march to her party office. So she announced to continue the 'March for Democracy' on December 30. The second day also ended up with the same fate. The main reason for the march to Dhaka was to mount pressure on the government to postpone the January 5 election and to pave the way for holding of the polls after the installation of a non-partisan election time government. If the election is held under a non-partisan election time government, the BNP will join it and there is huge prospect of its win in such polls. If so, many BNP men will be elected and the party will form the government. Many BNP men will legally and illegally enjoy many state facilities. They will think themselves above the reach of the law. Many of them will be able to amass money using the state power as many of them did when the BNP was in power in 2001-2006. So, it is difficult to find any reason to say the march was for democracy! Moreover, the way the BNP is run, no one can say that the party practices democracy within it.
The situation in the Khaleda's rival's fold is almost the same. Intra-party democracy is a far cry in the ruling AL. The way the AL-led government has used and abused the law enforcers to stymie the opposition's march to Dhaka has exposed its undemocratic face. The government also effectively de-linked the capital from the rest of the country by cutting off the communication network to prevent opposition men to enter the city. It has caused huge sufferings for the people.
The way ruling AL men armed with sticks marched the city streets in the name of resisting the opposition programme also demonstrates the desperate manner in which they want to hold the January 5 election. It does not matter whether the election is going to be without the participation of the voters or not. It does not matter whether the international community endorses the election. The reason behind the desperate behaviour is clear. Holding January 5 polls means that the AL will again assume power, foiling the BNP's prospect to grab it. MPs and AL leaders who have illegally amassed wealth abusing the state power and embezzled the state funds will have government protection for another five years. The ruling party men who did not make much in the last five years will use the opportunity this time round. There are many in both the camps who really want true democracy. But they find no way to raise their voice.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.