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           Volume 11 |Issue 11| March 16, 2012 |


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Current Affairs

A Looming Disaster

Shakhawat Liton

BNP chief Khaleda Zia. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

This June is going to mark the completion of one year of the cancellation of the constitutional provisions for the caretaker government (CTG). Before it was abolished, the CTG had a life span of around 16 years since it was introduced in the constitution in March 1996 by the then BNP-led government.

The then government had initially rejected the opposition parties' demand. The government's indifference had prompted the AL-led opposition parties to wage street agitations to force the government to accept their demand. In three years—1994 to 1996– the country's economy and people had to feel the heat of violent street agitations including 96 days of hartal enforced by the parties.

By dint of an overwhelming majority in parliament, the AL-led government abolished the caretaker system on June 30 last year, triggering fresh political uncertainty over the next parliamentary polls. The cancellation also prompted the BNP-led opposition parties to start street agitations to meet their demand for restoration of the caretaker government system.

Last week on March 12, the BNP chief Khaleda Zia, from a grand rally in the capital, announced an expansion of her electoral alliance. She also issued a 90-day ultimatum for the AL-led government to reinstate the caretaker government system by amending the constitution.

“Make a formal announcement restoring the non-party caretaker government system by June 10, or we will announce tougher programmes from a rally on June 11,” Khaleda said in a warning to the AL-led grand alliance government.

The same day the ruling AL made it clear that the BNP would not be able to realise any of its demands through movements in the streets, rather it needed to join the parliament and sit for a discussion with the government.

“They [BNP] have to place their proposals in parliament, on the process of holding the next general elections in a free and fair manner, and only then can discussions be held to reach a solution,” said AL Joint General Secretary, Mahbubul Alam Hanif, who is also a special assistant to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

The way the ruling party leaders and the government policymakers are reacting to the opposition’s demand made it almost clear that the political standoff prevailing over the caretaker government system has come here to stay. And uncertainty over holding free and fair parliamentary polls will dominate the political landscape in the coming days, a grim prospect for the country's economic life.

Goons belonging to the ruling party go on rampage before an opposition rally on March 12.
Photo: Shawkat Jamil

If the caretaker government system is not reinstated by the government, what will the BNP-led opposition parties do? The opposition parties have announced that they will declare tougher programmes in the coming days to force the government to accept their demand. Will they enforce 96 days hartals like the then AL-led opposition parties did in between 1994 to 1996? Will they launch a non-cooperation movement like the way the AL-led opposition parties did in March 1996?

All prevailing signs tell us that the opposition parties will try to make all out efforts to force the government to meet their demand.

On the other hand, the government and the ruling party may counter the opposition programmes either by cracking down on them or taking to the streets. But the records show that the ruling parties' effort to foil the opposition’s agitation infuses fresh blood into the anti-government movements.

At least that’s what history suggests. The government and the ruling AL made all out efforts to foil the opposition’s March 12 - programme and the opposition countered it by enforcing a dawn-to-dusk hartal on March 29.

The opposition parties will hold another grand rally in the capital on June 11 from where, according to them, they will announce tougher agitation programmes. What will happen if the opposition finally fails to force the government to restore the caretaker government? Will they really boycott the next parliamentary polls? Will the BNP-led opposition parties follow the footsteps of then opposition parties led by AL in 1996? The AL, Jatiya Party, Jamaat-e-Islami and others boycotted the February 15 of 1996 parliamentary polls as the election was held under the then BNP-led government. Amid boycott by the opposition parties, the farcical polls were held and the sixth parliament was constituted, which died in 11 days and its only function was to amend the constitution to introduce the caretaker government system.

Is history going to repeat itself? HM Ershad, the chief of Jatiya Party, a key component of AL-led grand electoral alliance, has been saying that his party will contest the next parliamentary polls alone. He has also directed his party leaders and activists to take preparations to contest the polls outside the alliance. Following his remarks, many political analysts predict that, sensing a boycott by the BNP-led opposition, the AL may opt for the new political strategy. Ershad seems now very interested in the new game. He might have dreamt of becoming the main opposition leader in the parliament by contesting the next parliamentary polls alone. But AL may make mistakes if it blindly keeps faith in Ershad, an unpredictable politician who will not hesitate to join the BNP-led alliance if the AL falls into major trouble at the end of its tenure.

In the wake of current political situation, many political analysts fear of a possible unrest. If the situation continues to deteriorate, what will happen? Another state of emergency? Or will any other force take the benefits of the situation?

In fact, the country is now at a crossroads. If politicians are sincere and are able to make compromise for the sake of the country's democracy, it is possible to overcome the looming uncertainty. What they should do now is open talks among themselves, be it formally or informally. They should also hold their tongue to prevent the political atmosphere from being polluted. They should not forget that politics is an art of compromise and they need to learn how artfully a compromise can be made. The failure to resolve the present crisis will again lead us to a political disaster.

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.


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