Politics of Mistrust | The Daily Star
12:09 AM, August 23, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:30 PM, August 26, 2013

Current Affairs

Politics of Mistrust

Bangladesh's politicians don't trust each other, why would the voters trust them?

The Prime Minister at a cabinet meeting. Photo: PID The Prime Minister at a cabinet meeting. Photo: PID

BNP chief Khaleda Zia expects her party leaders and supporters to follow the footsteps of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) activists who are fighting the law enforcers and are dying for the release and reinstatement of their leader Mohamed Morsi in the presidency. At a meeting of her party's national standing committee on August 17, she also enquired about the reasons behind the inability of her party supporters to follow the path of the MB.
None but Tariqul Islam, a member of the BNP national standing committee spoke the truth to answer Khaleda's question, a meeting source told this correspondent. "How will it happen here? We do not trust each other. My cell phone was seized prior to the beginning of the meeting," explained Tariqul, who might have been unaware of the bizarre ruling of the BNP chief that none would be allowed to attend the meeting with cell phone.
In a surprise move, Khaleda Zia collected the cell phones of her senior party colleagues during a party meeting of BNP’s national standing committee on April 10 and returned those to them only after the meeting was over. The move is seen as an extreme measure to “prevent the meeting discussions from being leaked” to the media. “Madam, are you suspecting us?” a BNP source who was present at the meeting quoted a standing committee member as asking Khaleda.
What Tariqul said at the August 17 meeting reflected the country's political culture. It prevents the BNP from being strengthened organisationally. And it prevents the party to work in unison. The party could not wage strong agitation against the current Awami League-led government due to its organisational weakness, although there were dozens of issues and instances of failures of the government. The way senior leaders do not trust each other has prompted grassroots leaders to express their lack of confidence in many senior leaders.
The August 17 meeting however decided to go slow on its anti-government agitation for the restoration of a non-partisan election time government. The party has repeatedly been saying that they will not participate in the next parliamentary election if it is held under the Hasina government. BNP's top leaders have even threatened to resist the parliamentary election if it is held under the Hasina-led government. The BNP does not trust the Awami League just as the latter does not trust the BNP.
The ruling AL is not free from this culture of mistrust. For instance, Hasina had dropped some of her party stalwarts from the AL presidium in 2009. She also did not induct them into her council of ministers, as she did not trust them. She was annoyed with them for their so-called reformist stance during the army backed caretaker government regime. Recently, she has been consulting with them ahead of the next parliamentary election. No one can say for sure whether she now trusts them or not.
In both the AL and BNP camps, there is a suffocating atmosphere. Scope is very little for the policymakers to open their minds to discuss any issue before making a decision. In most of the cases, they just sing the song of their respective supreme leaders. In this atmosphere, no one can dare to speak the truth. No one dares to do what actually needs to be done to improve the political culture.
So, where there is no trust within the parties, there is no possibility of developing trust and understanding between the parties. But unfortunately, the two major political parties--Awami League and BNP that have been ruling the country in turn since the restoration of democracy in 1991 have been asking people to trust them and to keep confidence in them and in their promises. Should people trust those who do not trust themselves?
The culture of mistrust had given birth to a non-partisan election time caretaker government system in 1996 following vigorous street agitation by AL, Jamaat and other political parties. People had got some sort of relief, as the possibility of political turmoil was reduced to the bare minimum as a non-partisan election time government would resume office during the parliamentary polls.

The leader of the opposition meeting with party leaders. Photo: Focus Bangla The leader of the opposition meeting with party leaders. Photo: Focus Bangla

But the relief could not last long. The caretaker government system was scrapped in June 2011. The almost settled matter was unsettled. The outcomes of this action were predictable. With only a few months ahead of the general election, no one can say for sure that the election will be held peacefully in time. People fear of another spell of political turmoil centring the elections.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, however, at a press conference at her official residence Gono Bhaban on August 19, had assured countrymen that the next parliamentary polls will be held on time. But the way she insisted her government's stance on the current constitutional provision regarding holding the next polls has triggered fresh fear.
Her comments – “Everything will take place according to the constitution. I will not budge an inch on this” – is really unfortunate. Is it possible for a democratic leader to speak this way?
Why is she defending the constitution so bluntly and vehemently? The current constitutional provisions, introduced in 2011, benefits her enormously. The parliamentary election will be held within 90 days before the expiry of the Jatiya Sangsad's tenure.
This means that MPs will remain in office while seeking re-election if the parliament is not dissolved before the 90-day deadline. If the parliament is dissolved before the 90-day deadline, the election will be held within the next 90 days. The incumbent prime minister and her council of ministers will be in office during the general election, and there will be no limitation on their functions.
So, it is crystal clear that she is defending the constitution now not for the sake of the constitution, but for petty party interests.
As per the strategy the BNP took at the August 17 meeting, it may not enforce any tougher agitation programmes by the middle of October. By that time, the party wants to gear up its organisational network so it can intensify the movement at the end of October. The main opposition BNP did not take the strategy on its own. Rather, it followed the suggestion of US ambassador in Dhaka who at a recent meeting with Khaleda advised BNP not to wage violent street agitations including the enforcement of hartals. This made it clear that donor countries and development partners will again engage vigorously in Bangladesh's domestic politics ahead of the next polls. And the BNP-led opposition alliance will leave no stone unturned to resist the parliamentary polls if it is held under Hasina. Conspiracy theory will cloud the political landscape and politics of mistrust will get a new height in the coming days, increasing the suffering of people and risking damage to the country's economic life.

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.

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