Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
     Volume 5 Issue 111 | November 24, 2006 |

   Cover Story
   Common Cold
   Human Rights
   Dhaka Diary
   Book Review
   New Flicks
   Write to Mita

   SWM Home

News Notes

A Nation in a Quagmire
Last Monday, the AL-led 14 party combine resumed their non-stop countrywide blockade demanding reconstitution of the Election Commission (EC) after the third deadline for the Chief Advisor to implement its 11-point demand ended. Others also joined in including Jatiyo Oikya Front comprising the Liberal Democratic Party LDP, Jatya Oikya Mancha and Bangladesh Tariqat Federation - all wanting the same thing, the removal of the CEC and three other election commissioners. But the Chief Advisor has been consistently remained unmoved by all the voices around him. All the parties, except the BNP-led four party alliance, have asked for the reconstitution of the EC.

Meanwhile, many civil society groups have echoed this demand. A five member Nagorik committee delegation comprising of former finance minister M Syeduzzaman, former cabinet secretary M Mujibul Huq, former adviser to the caretaker government Syed Manzur Elahi, Professor Abdullah Abu Sayeed and renowned economist Debapriya Bhattacharya called on Chief Advisor of the caretaker government Ijauddin Ahmed on the 19th of November. They put forward a number of proposals in which they requested the president to reconstitute the Election Commission, bring necessary amendments to the existing Representatives of People Order, take steps for revision of the voter lists excluding false voters and reshuffle the administration at the field level for creating a congenial atmosphere for a free and fair election.

Even the young ones joined in the public demand for the CEC's resignation

Foreign pressure has also been quite strong regarding a reconstitution of the EC. After the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for such a reform others have followed suit. Envoys of four nations the US, UK, Canada and Australia have said that the people of Bangladesh have lost their trust in the EC and also that if elections are conducted under it, they would not be considered credible overseas.

The most lucid picture of just how bad the situation is came from comments made by the caretaker advisors to the media, on their inability to resolve the political crisis. This inability is of course attributed to the lack of cooperation from the Chief Advisor.

After a meeting with fellow advisors, Dr. Akbar Ali Khan and Hasan Mashhud Chowdhury expressed their frustration to the media regarding the failure of the caretaker government to resolve the political crisis. Even after a series of intense meetings with all the political parties the impasse remained, as the Chief Advisor regarding this took no clear decision. About the flurry of transfers and postings of government officials and employees, the advisors said that none of these transfers had anything to do with officials who will perform election duties. According to Finance Advisor Ali Akbar Khan, even the Four-Party Alliance has questioned these transfers as well as some government employees.

Regarding the proposal of appointing two election commissioners, (the only solution the Chief Advisor showed any interest in) Finance Advisor Ali Akbar Khan expressed his doubts about a 'piecemeal solution' that would be least likely to make anyone happy. Khan also pointed out that the advisors have no control over the areas under the president's jurisdiction.

Akbar concluded that in the present situation the political parties themselves had to resolve the crisis themselves, hinting at the helplessness the advisors have found themselves in.

The AL-led 14 party alliance(top)and BNP-led 4 party coalition held their own rallies in Dhaka but for the most part they were peaceful

The AL-led 14 party coalition had proposed three ways of removing MA Aziz from the EC. One was to form a Supreme Judicial Council for Aziz's removal for publicly lying i.e. denying the fact that the caretaker government had asked him to resign. The second option was to send him on forced leave and the third was to remove him asserting executive power on the basis of a precedent set by a verdict of the Indian High Court regarding the chief election commissioner there. But Akbar said the CEC's voluntary resignation was still the best option. Advisor Mashhud however, expressed his pessimism. “What can we do when the particular person is not responding and his conscience is not working.'

To add to the cloud of mistrust and confusion, the Election Commission on November19, banned journalists from entering its secretariat. Although EC officials did not disclose why journalists were banned to go to the EC it takes little imagination to guess the reasons. Last year the CEC had imposed a restriction on the two former election commissioners talking to the media as they had strongly opposed CEC MA Aziz's unilateral move for preparing a fresh voter list.

The 14-Party Alliance blockade went on, for the most part, quite peacefully on November 20 although a major bout of violent clashes had been apprehended. Even the JCD and Islami Chatra Shibir's threat of confronting the 14 party alliance rallies, did not take place. BGMEA leaders had threatened to hold a major sit in with thousands of garment workers outside Bangabhaban unless the political crisis was resolved but even that did not happen in the end.

It was still not an uneventful day, to say the least. Far away from the caretaker government drama, in Natore the two rival combines clashed violently leaving 150 people injured, 50 of them by bullets.

In Dhaka a rumour that the president was going through a medical check up caused momentary panic, but it was stated that he was in stable health. Two hand-made bombs were blasted near Bangabhaban minutes after president and chief advisor left the premises for a meeting with his council of advisors at his office in Tejgaon.

The advisors were swamped with journalists waiting for a clear decision from the caretaker government about how the political crisis could be ended

In the evening of November 20, journalists eagerly waiting to know the outcome of the hectic discussion between the chief advisor and his council were told that there was some hope of the crisis coming to an end. The Chief Advisor had sent a three-member delegation of advisors comprising Mahbubul Alam, M. Azizul Haque and Advocate Sultana Kamal to the Chief Election Commissioner, to step down to resolve the crisis. The CEC, seemingly a little softened most probably by the overwhelming number of calls for his removal, asked for two days to respond. Later the advisors were vague when talking to the media and only promised that there would be results within 24 to 48 hours.

They did however hint that MA Aziz might go on leave until the elections or resign. At the time when this magazine went to print the much-awaited resignation of the CEC, had not happened.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2006