Formula, only a phone call away
In the murky and charged atmosphere of growing political uncertainties, people feel that their backs are to the wall. Two reactive trends are noticeable. These are still remote from public consciousness but are being talked about anyway.
Jatiya Party President H.M. Ershad, an ally of ruling AL-led Mahajote government, wishes to appear as an alternative to the two-party centred rule in the country by exploiting the public disenchantment with both AL and BNP.
These days he never tires of reminding people he wants to go it alone, field 300 candidates and aspire for power. His calculations are: should the BNP dejected on its caretaker demand, decide not to participate in the election the JP would contest in all seats and with its tally hope to sit in the opposition. But in another scenario, where an interim arrangement acceptable to BNP is put in place to hold a fully participatory election, Ershad may not leave the Mahajote, but still share as many seats as possible with the alliance. Yet, another option for the JP could be playing the power broker in the event of close electoral results between BNP and AL.
Former President Ershad's one-time colleague, now president JP splinter group, former AL minister and Ittefaq editor Anwar Hossain Manju implored Ershad: "For God's sake, participate in the election on your own, just don't say it repeatedly to confuse the nation." But there was an element of irony in Manju's remark, "In youth you secured 30 seats; now let's see in old-age how many of 300 seats you land up with if you go it alone."
Memory of Ershad's autocratic rule has been somewhat diluted through his incarceration during Justice Shahabuddin-led caretaker government, BNP rule and for a very brief spell during AL rule. Political parties have had the ammunition of leveraging him with a number of corruption cases. But in all but two cases relating to radar purchase and General Manjur's murder, Ershad stands unencumbered. He remains a political factor given also the fact that the Jamaat is in disarray.
We have had a not-so-brief chequered history of civil society movements. There were efforts by Gen. Osmani and Dr. Kamal Hossain to form civic platforms towards achievement of political objectives. Then Professor Muzaffar Ahmed through Sujon launched a campaign to sensitise voters about their rights to choose their representatives having unblemished credentials. This has had an impact on the public mind with the ethical side to election gaining some ground, however small.
The full potential of civil society's role as a conscientious objector to deviant political culture and pressure group to persuade key political players to heed the voice of reason is yet to be realised. Usually, political parties look at them as adversaries and not as a repository of good, neutral and self-less advice they could count on to steer clear of any unyielding political behaviourism.
Mahmudur Rahman Manna is contemplating to build a platform called Oikya Front. He had to cease being member secretary to a civic movement launched earlier with Barrister Rafiqul Huq as convener as Manna became a candidate for the DCC election. Now that the DCC elections hang in suspense, Manna is free to get back to the priority of organising a civil society front. This will be no political party, no aspirant for power; it will be only wedded to morally pressurising the two major political parties to end their standoff and go for a negotiated settlement on the contentious caretaker issue.
The template is there. Remember, the BNP had rejected the caretaker system during its rule in 1991-1996 and held an election which the AL boycotted. The lack of legitimacy of the government born of January 15 farcical election was to force its hands in the face of continuing opposition agitation to enact the caretaker government.
Supposing the Awami League similarly goes for a non-participatory election because of its persistence in holding the next general election through party government, history may repeat itself. Lack of legitimacy of such government may force it to accept an interim non-party arrangement to hold the election anew. Why muddle what can be gracefully done?
The choice is AL's: either it accepts any of the interim caretaker formulae making the rounds or it respects the HC verdict observations when forced.
Begum Zia says since the Awami League did away with the caretaker system it is for the AL to bring it back. There maybe logic in her stance but it is impolitic as strategy. I think she can really push the ball into the AL court by hanging out a list of two or three alternative formulae for neutral interim arrangement before the AL to see how the AL responds. They are promise-bound to discuss the BNP formula and consider it, mind you, under public watch. Also the world is watching.