'There is no indication of election except the words that election will be held' | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 23, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 23, 2008

Talking Polls and Beyond

'There is no indication of election except the words that election will be held'

Dr. R. A. Ghani

Dr. R.A. Ghani is a member of the BNP standing committee. He participated actively in the language movement, liberation war and the struggle for democracy in '90's. Ghani, born on February 9, 1931, was elected member of the parliament in 1979 and served as minister from 1979 to '82. He was founder-chairman and sponsor director of Prime Bank and former director of Bangladesh Bank. He played a vital role in ensuring Khaleda Zia's leadership in BNP since emergency was imposed last year. Rakib Hasnet Suman and Rashidul Hasan took this interview.
The BNP standing committee brought some changes in the party constitution. Can you tell us about the major changes?
We approved only those changes that were necessary to fulfill the criteria for getting registration with the Election Commission. But they have to be approved by the council, which will be held later.
Did you decide to curb the power of the chairperson?
It is not possible without holding a party council. But maybe the chairperson will take the decision in consultation with the party forums instead of taking unilateral decision. Generally, the decision will be taken on the basis of consensus. But some matters, like appointment of the secretary general, will depend on the chairperson, as only she knows who will be helpful in running the party.
The chairperson, herself, could bring changes in the constitution, but she did not do that. She called a meeting of the standing committee and took the decision through discussion.
Did you include a provision to ensure elected leadership in the party?
The provision already exists in the party constitution, but we did not practice it.
BNP has submitted the application for registration, though the party leadership had earlier said that they would do it before the second round of talks with the government.
We asked for extension of the deadline as it was not possible to apply according to the previous timeframe. We also placed some proposals, including lifting the emergency.
Did you make the changes due to pressure from the government?
That is partly true. On the other hand, we had to do it for getting registered, as a party will not be allowed to participate in the election without registration.
Does it mean that participation of BNP in the coming polls is confirmed?
We don't want to eliminate the option of taking part in the election. But I cannot tell you right now about the final decision regarding participation in the election.
There are allegations that BNP was never run in a democratic way. Do you agree with this?
Most of the times we entrust the power of making decisions on the chairperson.
You are opposing election under emergency, but the government says that emergency will stay to ensure the safety of voters.
Election is held not only in Bangladesh but also in other countries of the world.
Will convicted corrupt leaders continue as party members?
I think a house-cleaning operation should be conducted inside the party, and if anybody is found guilty he should not come to the forefront. But a chance should be given to the criminals so that they can become honest. That will be the real reform.
Did you give the proposal to the chairperson to conduct house-cleaning operation?
We feel it. Though our party stance is that we want to see all the trials under existing laws in an open court.
Will corrupt persons get party nomination for the coming polls?
Many convictions have been given, but the convicted persons said that they did not get the chance to defend themselves in the court.
Do you think the Election Commission's initiative will be able to bring qualitative change in politics?
I don't think so.
What were the mistakes of the BNP led four-party alliance government?
They ran the country according to their wisdom. But the country could be developed more.
Who is the responsible for this inability?
Of course, BNP is responsible. BNP's failure is that they could not even understand the plan about 1/11, which was a pre-planned incident.
There is corruption allegation against Hawa Bhaban, which was known as an "alternative powerhouse." Do you think the activities of Hawa Bhaban should have been controlled?
Of course, they should have been controlled. I went there only when the chairperson called me to join a meeting there after election. Otherwise, I could not believe the existence of Hawa Bhaban, which, however, played a fantastic role in collecting constituency-based data. Even the activities of party lawmakers were monitored from there, which was appreciable.
What is your opinion about the much talked about minus-two formula?
No one is empowered to minus anyone, and solutions cannot come through minuses, because every citizen of the country has the right to live in the country.
What is your observation about the activities of foreign diplomats?
The activities are beyond their jurisdiction. But, yes we go to them when invited as it has turned into a tradition.
What is your opinion about the proposed meeting between the two top leaders (Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia)?
I think it has no negative side; rather it may bring something good for the country.
You attended the much talked about meeting of the standing committee at Saifur Rahman's residence on October 29, 2007, you even signed a paper to approve the meeting decision. Why?
Yes I attended it as I was invited for tea. We were asked to sign on a blank paper. Though we discussed some issues, I told them that the meeting was not convened properly. But we were asked to sign the paper.
Who asked you to sign?
There were some people other than party members.
Khaleda Zia held a meeting with the BNP and Jamaat secretaries general inside the jail. As a political leader how do you explain it?
Meetings can be held inside the jail. But I don't know about their discussion.
Is there any weakness in running BNP?
Yes, there are organisational weaknesses. The party has grown bigger but the structure has remained unchanged.
Do you think the weakness may have a negative impact on the result of the coming polls?
They may have some impact. We have to overcome the weaknesses.
Will the reformists be allowed to return to the party?
Minus two or three cannot be termed as reform as the party has two factors -- popularity and leadership. Begum Zia has not attained her popularity in a day. In fact, it (reform initiative) was a plan to destroy the BNP. So we have to judge the popularity of those leaders (reformists) among the leaders, workers and followers in their respective areas.
We have heard that the government has provided a list of leaders who cannot be nominated for election. Is that right?
I have heard about it. We are also working out who can take part in the polls and who can't as many people have already been convicted, though I think only open trial will be acceptable and we have to wait till the decision of the highest court is delivered.
Do you have confusions about the December18 election?
Of course, we have. The government is repeatedly assuring the nation, as it also knows about the confusion. A congenial atmosphere must be created for the election, but it is totally absent now. There is no indication of election except the words that election will be held on December18. A free and fair election is not possible under emergency.
Are you prepared for the polls?
We have many lawmakers and we were prepared for the January 22 poll. So it will not be difficult for us […] we just have to make some changes.
What could be the situation after the polls?
It will depend on the result. There is a possibility of post-election violence if the people fail to cast their votes freely.
Do you think BNP made any mistake when running the country? If yes, then does the chairperson have any responsibility in this regard?
Of course. The party could formulate many good laws as we had two-thirds majority. But we did not do that. So what benefit did two-thirds majority bring for us? But it was an unusual time and the government faced many challenges.
Do you agree that BNP lost a golden opportunity to run the country on the right track despite having two-thirds majority?
Oh yes…Sure…. no doubt about it.

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