Hasina, Khaleda failed, Raushan made a difference?
THE entire democratic world may keep pointing out the flaws in the January 5 parliamentary election that bulldozed people's voting rights, but Sheikh Hasina has no other alternative but to vehemently defend and laud that election regardless of its flaws. The reason is simple and crystal clear. That election has made her prime minister once again. And it was the easiest ever way for her to return to power without any break and without defeating any challenger. So, there is nothing unusual if she defends the election that was held amid a boycott by the BNP-led opposition alliance. She did the same on Sunday on the Parliament's floor while giving her valedictory speech at the 4th session of the current Jatiya Sangsad.
Some of the remarks she made in her speech are significant, and are not expected of any true democrat. While lauding the role of the main opposition party led by Raushan Ershad, she claimed that the opposition in the current parliament has taken the “right democratic and institutional shape.” Everybody knows how this main opposition was created by Sheikh Hasina through the one-sided January 5 parliamentary election. The main opposition has also set an unprecedented record in the modern history of world parliamentary democracy by allowing some of its MPs to join the cabinet. This has in fact bulldozed democratic norms and values. In parliamentary democracy, the main opposition can in no way join the government. But the Jatiya Party has become the exception. Its chief, H.M. Ershad, a deposed military dictator, has been appointed special envoy to the prime minister with status of a minister. All these make a mockery of democracy.
If the main opposition has really taken the “right democratic and institutional shape” as claimed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, this practice should be followed more vigorously in future to make our democracy a model! What needs to be done in future? A political party, more loyal to the government, needs to be made the main opposition in parliament? More MPs need to get unelected in future elections? All the 300 parliamentary seats should be uncontested? Are all these measures required to further strengthen the “right democratic and institutional shape” of the main opposition in parliament?
The prime minister in her speech said the BNP used abusive words and behaved indecently on the parliament floor in the last Jatiya Sangsad between 2009-2013. By saying this, the premier put all the blame on the BNP. It's true some of the BNP's MP used vulgar words in the House, but this is not the full story. Hasina's party Awami League cannot avoid the responsibility of some of its MPs who locked horns with BNP MPs to trade vulgar and abusive words on many occasions. But unfortunately, Sheikh Hasina, who was also the leader of the House in the last parliament, did not take any effective step to stop the practice of using abusive words in parliament.
Sheikh Hasina has now been lauding the main opposition Jatiya Party MPs for their role in parliament. In her words, the Jatiya Party has been discharging the duties of a “real opposition” as it was the job of the opposition to point out the mistakes of the government, which the opposition had been doing. Her remarks indicate that the premier is satisfied with the performance of the main opposition in parliament. The situation in the current parliament is different than previous parliaments with either AL or BNP in the opposition bench. The main opposition MPs in the current parliament have hardly launched a collective verbal attack on the government for any of its activities or failure to perform. Therefore, the atmosphere in the House was always calm in absence of heated debates and discussions. For example, Opposition Leader Raushan Ershad spoke in the parliament prior to the prime minister's speech. In her speech, Raushan praised Hasina for taking the country towards prosperity. “The country has moved forward for quite a long time as you [Hasina] have the quality,” said Raushan, who is supposed to lead a shadow cabinet to oversee the functions of the Hasina-led government.
Thus, the proceedings in the current parliament have largely been dull. When the parliament is in session, it has sometimes been difficult to find any report on the parliament proceedings in the daily newspapers! Newspapers and private television channels also refrain from giving importance to the parliament proceedings. Is this a healthy sign for the growth of democracy? Is our democracy taking institutional shape?
However, none should take Hasina's remarks lightly that the main opposition in the current parliament has taken “right democratic and institutional shape.” If her remark is correct, this is an achievement for our parliamentary democracy. And Raushan Ershad deserves the credit for it. She has made a difference! Hasina and Khaleda Zia, who each were opposition leader twice since 1991, failed to convince the main opposition to take “right democratic and institutional shape” and to make their respective parties into “real opposition”!
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.