Early lifting of emergency
For the last eight months we have heard constantly about free, fair and credible election for establishing democracy in Bangladesh in which honest and committed people will be allowed to contest.
Correct voter list will be prepared under the direct supervision of army. To reduce the chance of vote rigging the voters will be given ID cards. These may be considered good for a least developed country like Bangladesh. For improved voting we have re- organised the Election Commission and replaced all the members of the last commission because of their reported partisan attitude.
We have accepted that the new EC is more efficient and is capable of coping with the huge task of completing the election in 18 months. The main tasks of the EC are preparation of voter list, voter ID cards, arranging adequate number of polling booths, appointing officers and others concerned with election, and ensuring safety and security of the voters, (both inside and outside the polling booths) so that maximum number of voters can participate in the election.
Out of these works so far only 10% of thevoter list is complete and 90% of the list is to be completed in around eleven months. Both the CA and EC have repeatedly stated completion of all works related to election by end 2008. Let us hope that the CTG will be able to fulfill its commitment.
Despite high reputation of sincerity and honesty we are little puzzled by the CEC for his inconsistent statements recently during his visits to Chittagong and Tangail. Before his visit to Chittagong we had clear impression that emergency would be lifted by December 2007 to enable EC to hold election of municipalities and sub-districts in free political atmosphere. Now we hear that emergency may continue till the national election.
In Tangail the CEC has stated that the reporters have misquoted his statement of Chittagong. His present stand is that he is in favour of lifting emergency at least two months ahead of local bodies' elections. Later EC has again expressed his hope for lifting emergency by December 2007. It would be desirable if CEC give a clear and firm statement about his opinion on continuation of emergency.
Though we are not very happy about repeated statements of the law adviser about his apprehension for creation of a chaotic condition by political parties as bad as it existed before 1/11 we cannot treat his statements lightly because of recent Dhaka University campus incident, clear violation of the emergency by Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and possibility of rallies by major political parties for release of their top leaders. It may be relevant to point out that in spite of violation of emergency, the HuT followers were treated softly by the authorities..
Though we believe that CTG is serious about holding election by 2008, however we are not clear as to why it is so much afraid of lifting the emergency. It knows well that without lifting emergency well ahead of election there cannot be enough of interactions among political parties, people to people and people and the party. Public meetings are to be held, parties will have to drum up support for their parties, the contestants will have to be introduced before the public and some parties may like to form alliances as political strategy. To hold meetings the parties will have to be arranged for rallies, street meetings, etc. The parties interested in reform may go for council meetings to elect their new leaders.
Instead of showing intermittent uncertainties about lifting emergency what is needed is firm decision about lifting. It may have to take risk of skirmishes among parties, groups or individual contestants. The law enforcing bodies should be alert. The relevant rules should be cautiously but firmly applied and neutrality may never be compromised. With no political interference police force is competent enough to control any political violence. The possibility of resurgence of pseudo-Islamic militants may have to be closely watched.
We hear (not distinctly) that efforts are on for joint action (may be agitation) by the BNP and AL for release of their leaders from jails. What is needed is to start proceedings by the ACC for completing their charge sheets at the earliest to save the CTG from any possible embarrassment in future. The major political parties, on the other hand, may refrain from starting any movement without a thorough introspection because of the following points:
* Whether there is enough ground for release of the leaders. Whether the involvement of the leaders in the cases is really detrimental to the interest of the party or involvement is due to purely personal benefit or benefit of members of their families.
* Whether planned agitation in the country or outside will delay the election. In case of delay whether they may lose or gain voters due to such activities.
* How much money may be spent on their activists when they have been restricted to spend money from their political funds.
The apprehension of the CTG about a return of retaliatory politics may not be totally unfounded. However, possibility of a return to the situation before 1/11 is dim as much has been changed in the Bangladesh political scenario during the last eight months. In fact, the number of people who want that the CTG may continue beyond the end of next year because of its good governance is not small.
Whatever pitfalls there may be, democracy is considered by the people as their own government in which they may freely choose their leaders and their country is much more respected internationally than any other government.
As such, only democracy may suit the people of Bangladesh. To bring in democracy, emergency will have to be lifted at the earliest. Start of political activities may result in political meetings and skirmishes among political groups and activists.
It is the law enforcement agencies which should be fully alert to tackle such situations. For the successful completion of the tenure of CTG, the best option would be to lift emergency as quickly as possible.
The writer is a former joint secretary.