'Political parties must work together to save democracy ' | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 17, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 17, 2008

Exclusive Interview

'Political parties must work together to save democracy '

Chowdhury Tanvir Ahmed Siddiky

Chowdhury Tanvir Ahmed Siddiky is the founder treasurer of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and was a member of the National Standing Committee since its inception. He was a member of the second parliament and served as state minister in 1980-81. Siddiky was the president of FBCCI in 1979 and DCCI in '76-'78 and worked as director of former National Bank of Pakistan and Janata Bank. He was born on February 14, 1939, and is currently chairman and managing director of Baliadi Siddiky group of commerce and industries. Rakib Hasnet Suman and Rashidul Hasan took this interview.
Till now BNP's decision is not to participate in election until its five-point demand, including lifting of emergency, is met. Why is BNP opposing polls amidst emergency?
There are two important requirements for holding a transparent and meaningful election -- one is a level playing field and the other is an environment where voters will not feel fear. These are not possible under emergency.
Besides, everyone wants a transparent election, and the chief adviser himself said before the nation that the emergency would be withdrawn, if necessary, to hold a credible election. Even the CEC also told us that he also did not want emergency during the election.
Though held under emergency, the recent city corporation elections showed a huge voter turnout, and many voters said they felt safe due to presence of emergency.
The city elections were a one-party game because only Awami League nominated candidates. It was not a party poll but a one-sided game. Had there been an election contested by both BNP and Awami League, things could have been different. I can say that we could win in maximum cities if we could participate in election.
The government has already announced that the upcoming elections would be held under emergency to ensure security of the people. Do you think BNP won't participate in that poll?
Fundamentally, it is a wrong concept of both the government and the Election Commission. It means the government has no faith in the people. They don't believe any political party, and it's a defamation of the parties.
We can follow India. There is chaos and anarchy there, but they didn't hold any election under emergency. If holding election without emergency is possible in Kashmir, why not in Bangladesh?
BNP demanded scrapping of the amended RPO but the CEC said there would be no more changes, which means the amended RPO would be effective. What will your party do now?
The Election Commission is an independent body. But it has to consider the suggestions of the political parties if it wants to hold a credible election.
Why did Awami League say that they have no objection if some emergency power rules continue? In fact, they want an election without BNP's participation, like the recent city corporation elections. They [AL] want to form a government through walkover, as they know their grand alliance will not get a majority if the four-party alliance takes part in the election.
But the EC did say that it will not make any more changes in the RPO.
I don't think there is any scope for the government and the EC to stick to their prior decision as they have already changed their position on several issues several times, due to lack of experience. It is their responsibility to withdraw emergency and bring necessary changes in the RPO.
Why are you against the amended RPO? Will you get registered with the Election Commission?
I think the government has to give in to the logical demands of the people. We are the largest political party as we had two-third majorities in the last election. I hope the EC will realise this soon.
There are master players, and what was their game plan? The game plan is to keep BNP away from the election process so that they can bring their chosen person into power through a one- sided election. They will do anything to prevent BNP from taking part in the election.
But we want to draw your attention to the point that there is no problem for BNP to be registered according to the new provisions.
Those who are working on registration related issues are looking into it. BNP is an election-oriented party. There is no alternative to election to save the people from this suffocating situation, and we have to play a responsible role. But BNP will not accept any stage-managed election.
You are asking me about registration. All sort of efforts are being made to keep BNP away from the election. Why did they hold city corporation elections? Why do they want to hold upazilla elections? Many questions arise. What is happening behind the scene? What is the game plan, and who is carrying it out?
Many political observers said that you are against registration due to Jamaat-e-Islami's stance … is that right?
Whatever you think about Jamaat, they are a very logical and systematic party. Jamaat is aware about its position.
If you do not accept the amended RPO or take part in the election, then will you not help to implement the game plan?
We have a lot of experience in running the country, which is why we can understand the position of the government. If you see the activities of this government over the last two years, then you can see that there were no coordination centrally … so who is in power? Who is doing what ... we don't know.
You have seen the contradiction between the Election Commission and the chief adviser. Now the time for making preparations is very short, but BNP is an election-oriented party. But we have to protest if there is any attempt to keep BNP out of the election.
You have said time is very short for election preparation, has BNP started its election preparation?
We are working on it regularly. I think if the coming election is fair then the result of the 2001 election will be repeated.
Have you prepared your election manifesto?
Yes, we have started working on it. We are working for everything but we are uncompromising on the question of our ideology.
What is the party position on the persons those who have been accused and convicted on charges of corruption?
The party position is clear, that we can't term anyone as corrupt until the appellate division of the Supreme Court confirms it.
But the BNP constitution says a person cannot stay in the party if he is known as corrupt in the society.
The party constitution is clear. You cannot brand anyone as corrupt before the verdict from the Appellate division, even if a lower court convicted him. We will not do anything against anyone if he is not convicted by the highest court. He/she will lose primary membership if the highest court convicts him/her. Until the Supreme Court confirms it, we are not bound to take action against anyone.
Some of your party leaders proposed bringing changes in the party constitution to curb the powers of the chairperson, do you agree with that?
It might be considered if someone placed the proposal to the party council in the future. There is every scope for improvement. But, before any change in the constitution is made through the council, all the provisions of the existing constitution will continue.
The major allegation against BNP in its last tenure was corruption. Hawa Bhaban became known as symbol of corruption. Do you agree Hawa Bhaban tarnished the image of BNP?
Much ado about nothing. 1/11 has happened, but what has been proved? I am demanding a white paper about corruption. We have seen things in the media that cannot be accepted. Whatever you say must be supported by logical arguments and documents.
Hawa Bhaban played a master role as an election office, and helped the four-party alliance win the poll with two-third majority. It worked as a think-tank of the party.
But what was the role of Hawa Bhaban after the 2001 election?
You know what happened after election, what was published in the newspapers. But what did we get over the last two years? You have to prove every allegation logically.
What is the party decision regarding those former lawmakers who were known as reformists?
All except two (Mannan Bhuiyan and Ashraf Hossain) will continue their activities from their respective positions in the party, as the chairperson said.
What is your evaluation of 1/11? Is there any lesson that the politicians can learn from it?
The proper time has not come to talk about 1/11. Efforts had been made to humiliate the politicians and to tarnish their image and character on a wholesale basis.
However, I want to quote Winston Churchill the great, "You may forgive the criminals, but do not forget their crimes and their names." I just want to say I could have been an owner of a television channel or a bank if I wished to be, but I did not do such a thing.
But there are allegations that some BNP leaders became proprietors of television stations, banks and industries through illegal means -- does this not damage the party image?
There are a thousand mangoes in a tree, thirty of them are rotten; will you cut the mango tree considering that all the mangoes are rotten?
There is no alternative to democracy, election, politicians and political government. Those who have love for democracy, self-dignity, consciousness, will have to realise that we will be in trouble if we do not save democracy together.
Holding an election and sitting in parliament is enough? Will the corrupt politicians and ministers be untouched?
How does corruption begin? Who is the beneficiary of corruption, who is behind this? A bureaucrat gets 50% of the benefit from corruption while a minister gets five percent. Could you put them behind bars? They are travelling from country to country and enjoying themselves.

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