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     Volume 6 Issue 16 | April 27, 2007 |

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News Notes

A Flicker of Hope
Bangladesh is going to be next to godliness very soon, thanks to all the different 'cleaning' programmes that the present caretaker government has undertaken. With the various news flashes of Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia, the Chairpersons of Awami League and the Bangladesh National Party respectively, that keep 'breaking' every other day, the country is going through, what one may term as, a yo-yo situation. Nobody knows what is actually going to happen to the state even a month from now. People are still awaiting the announcements of the election dates and when the country will go back to being a democratic state.
With a 'one-at-a-time' attitude shown by the CTG, the government has finally given a flicker of hope by announcing a lift on indoor politics on May 8, though the Election Commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain still hopes for the lifting of the ban to actually take place as announced, sometime next month. He reasons that the duration of this ban will go beyond three months on May 8, though the lifting of the ban might be slightly delayed.
Meanwhile, as a sign to make the state more secular, the EC has removed six election symbols to discourage religious-image-based election campaigns and thereby protect the voters from further confusion.
In a country of millions where almost everyone seems to be campaigning for the 'truth', election symbols like a book - the universal element of knowledge, a desert animal namely a camel, a seashell which can be found by the seashore have been banned, besides a minaret, spinning wheel and a sword. However, there have been complaints and controversies regarding the symbol of measuring scales, which have not been banned. The authorities have rightly argued that the measuring scales symbolise justice all over the world, apparently, being used also to measure materials, including grains, vegetables, meat and so on.

Cleaning-up the Mess
The government should take steps to make sure political uncertainty that is looming large over the country's horizon does not hit its economy. Coupled with the seemingly turbulent political pond come certain draconian measures that the government has taken to check the spiralling prices of the essentials. A visiting IMF team has expressed its concern over possible supply disruptions because of new anti-hoarding drives. One thing that we should not forget is that these are temporary measures to fix certain anomalies that have been plaguing our economic system for so long. It is understandable that Bangladesh Rifles, whose primary job is to guard our border, cannot play rice and onion vendor forever. There are competent individuals in the government, who-- if left alone to themselves-- are capable of coming up with a budget that will surely make everyone happy. It will be good to see our economy growing at eight per cent a year, which only emerging economies like China and India have. The next budget will test this government's resolve to carry on with the reforms it has so famously taken, only time can tell how it tackles the long-standing problems that have been heaped on them in the last one and a half decades.

Killers on the Road
Every year around 12000 people are killed in road accidents, according to a speaker at the inaugural session of the first United National Global Road Safety Week. Around 3,500 of them are below eighteen. An economic loss of Tk 5000 crore has been cited as a result of these accidents. The most frustrating fact is that these accidents have been caused by reckless driving. High speed and a tendency for overtaking are the primary reasons for these accidents.
Add to this drunken driving, violation of basic traffic rules and the inefficiency of law-enforcement agents to catch reckless drivers and bring them to book, has resulted in an increasing number of such tragedies. The intercity buses and trucks are virtual killers on the road. The staggering figures should be enough for a government to react with more stringent laws and penalties to punish the culprits who have so little respect for human life.

The Soap Opera Continues…
If anyone ever thought that the show was over would not be disappointed the last two weeks during which the two most important women in our lives have given the public more drama than they could ever imagine. While the caretaker government's cleansing operation continued with increasing efficiency and zeal, interesting developments were predominating the news papers. Khaleda Zia was asked to leave the country along with her younger son Arafat . All arrangements apparently had been made, with the country she would be spirited off to being willing to host her and her family. The nation waited in suspense for the much talked about flight that would whisk away the former BNP Chairperson as the grande finale of the fall of the dynastic rule. But the queen never took the flight. First there was news that she refused to go without her elder son Tareq Rahman, incarcerated for extortion charges. Then there was news about Tareque going to meet his mom at the Cantonment house. Journalists tried their best to get a shot of the meeting but with no luck. Then there were rumours that Tareque had disappeared, later this turned out to be just idle gossip and actually he had been sent back to the Central jail. In the next few days there were many varied reports about Khaleda's imminent departure. There were reports saying a special chartered flight from Saudi Arabia would be taking her, that she preferred taking a regular airline, that the delay was because of problems with visas. Apparently the list of names in Khaleda's entourage kept growing, making it difficult for the authorities to keep getting new visas for each new person. In any case Khaleda was in no mood to leave according to reports, at least not without her son.
Meanwhile the High Court had a spin on the story too, by issuing a rule on the government to explain why the court will not direct the government to produce Khaleda Zia in court to prove that she had not been confined to her house. The antecedents to this included an appeal to the court to ask the government not to send the former BNP Chairperson out of the country against her will and challenged the reported confinement of Khaleda to her house.
So while the public wait (at least till the time this was written) with bated breath on the question: will she or won't she leave town forever, there are other colourful events happening. The twist to this story was that Sheikh Hasina, Khaleda's arch-rival made news herself when she was refused a boarding pass for a flight home from London. In a BBC interview Hasina bravely announced that if there were cases against her, she was ready to face them; if there was an arrest warrant against her she was ready to go to jail, but please would they let her come home? She was giving a good performance when she had to make another faux pas saying how it was possible that they would not allow her to come back to the country as she was “the daughter of the father of the nation”? Nothing could have given her away more than this self-important statement, which implies that she has a birth-right to the leadership of the country just because she is a blood relation of Bangabandhu. This reveals the immaturity and arrogance of our leaders who just cannot get away from adhering to notions of dynastic rule, disregarding completely that they were elected by their subjects, oh sorry, people. True, both the leading ladies came to power because they were immediate members of deceased leaders but they should remember that they were part of a democratic process. At some point they should have weaned themselves from the dynastic cushioning they enjoyed through sheer fate, and emerged as competent, fair and democratic leaders. Instead they fell into their own trap over reliance on familial legacies. Is this the end of the first season? Will the leading ladies come back? The guessing game goes on…


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