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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 223
June 18, 2011

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Reviewing The Views
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Reviewing The Views

Why must we settle the CTG issue immediately?

Mohammad Moin Uddin

Unlike the last election, we hope that the 10th general election in Bangladesh will be held in due time. In the tense situation prevailing right now in Bangladesh involving the caretaker government issue, which has the potential to worsen, no one can say with certainty that the next election will be timely held. So, we can just hope that it will.

If the next election cannot be held duly, who will be the losers? Given the bitter experience of the last general election, we can only guess that our intelligent politicians, especially of both major parties, are aware that they are the immediate losers and targets of such a situation. Apart from this personal side of the issue, what is really at stake is much, much bigger. Specifically, I mean that a chaotic situation surrounding the transition of government in future may bear more repercussions than the last time. Particularly, maintenance of democracy, protection of the country from another unelected regime, and citizens' enjoyment of fundamental rights happen to be at risk in a transitional period.

Some people say that after the Appellate Division verdicts nullifying 5th and 7th amendments of the Constitution in Bangladesh, there is no possibility of extra-constitutional takeover by the military. Personally, I would also like to think that there will be no coups after these verdicts. But let us be realistic and look back to history. The Asma Jilani verdict in 1972 could not save Pakistan from two subsequent military takeovers, nor could E.K. Sallah verdict in 1970 prevent four subsequent coups in Ghana. Even in Bangladesh after the famous Moon Cinema Hall verdict (2005), a military coup occurred before the 9th general election. What happened on 1/11 in 2007 and afterwards signifies one kind of coup, namely a “Guardian coup.” Since such a coup occurred before last general election despite having had a definite constitutional arrangement of governmental transition and the Moon Cinema Hall verdict, isn't there a greater likelihood of a coup before the 10th general election, especially considering that there is now no agreed upon method of governmental transition after a recent judgment annulling the 13th amendment? Although it may sound pessimistic and ominous, we must not ignore this possibility.

Some people say that the Bangladeshi military will not usurp power any more because its participation in international peace-keeping missions may be jeopardized. This is not the case for sure. Previous history shows that the international community does not always oppose coups d'état. Sometimes the international community may support a military coup based on the strategic position of the country in question and its military leadership. In a world of ever-changing international relations, we must not take for granted the assumption that the international community will automatically condemn military interference in civil affairs. We must not fail to realize that military leaders in modern times are very much aware of international politics, and they possess the savvy to make quick decisions in a murky transitional period.

Actually, neither constitutional provisions nor court verdicts can prevent a coup. Legality is just one of many considerations that influence a military's decision regarding a coup. It is naïve to think that after court verdicts the military will be totally barred from taking over. A coup d'état is by definition an illegal activity. Coup-makers are always cognizant of the fact that what they are doing is unconstitutional, and that it involves a high risk of being prosecuted and punished for treason. Despite all the risks involved, they may engage in a coup for various motivations, personal and beyond. Coup-theorists are convinced that no nation on earth is totally immune from the risk of a coup. Of course, based on the democratic practices and citizens' political awareness, the probability of a coup varies from country to country. To what extent is Bangladesh currently at risk of a coup?

Without proffering a definitive answer, let us see if the conditions that generally lead to a coup prevail in Bangladesh or not. Coup-theorists think that a lack of public participation in governance, weak public commitment to civil institutions, an exaggerated sense of legitimacy by the existing government, rapid social change, and having no generally agreed upon political succession procedure may lead to a coup. The last condition is definitely present now in Bangladesh, if not others; and it is crucial. If the government-transition issue is not settled in Bangladesh permanently and immediately, a strong possibility of a coup will emerge every five years. Though military leaders know that governance is not all fun, and they are intelligent enough not to undertake the unnecessary burden of governing the country, sometimes they may feel compelled to undertake it for the sake of national interest, if not for the sake of personal interest. Indeed, the unsettled caretaker Government Issue may pave the way for another military seizure of state power in Bangladesh.

The writer is Lecturer of Law, Chittagong University.






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