The world is concerned about our elections
Khaleda Zia is right. There can be no meaningful elections here if all political parties do not participate. Also, there must be level playing field for all parties. Hence her insistence on a neutral, caretaker government is understandable. Hence her obstinacy.
Sheikh Hasina, as prime minister, is also right. Elections must be held as per provisions laid down in our constitution. This calls for formation of an interim government whose members must be elected persons. But the prime minister had introduced these provisions through the 15th Amendment without consultation with Khaleda Zia and the main opposition. This was unfortunate as it denied them the opportunity to voice their opinion on the subject. At this late stage the prime minister does not want to change things as they have played out. It would upset the apple cart. Hence her obstinacy.
In spite of the prime minister asking Khaleda Zia to join her interim government that would conduct the elections, she (Khaleda Zia) has flatly refused. She will not serve under the interim prime ministership of her arch rival Sheikh Hasina.
So what can Khaleda Zia do? With her back to the wall she encouraged forces within her party to force the issue. Hence we have the unrelenting hartals and the oborodhs (sieges) of Dhaka. These actions are causing the death as well as the torching of innocent bystanders. Property is being looted by miscreants and rail lines are being damaged. Political issues, when not discussed but forced, have the possibility of going out of hand. Of late, this is what has been happening in many places in Bangladesh. The police, in spite of being alert and acting as a deterrent, often botch up and are not able to bring things under their control.
Saner elements on both sides seem to be unwilling to stand up and work towards a resolution. There are political opportunists on both sides as well as on the fringes who find it easier to mess up things further. Former president Ershad, whose Jatiya party could take up the role of being an honest broker, has instead opted for deliberate vacillation. He changes sides as events warrant. He is a big disappointment.
Elections in Bangladesh have elicited considerable interest in the international community. This is not because development partners are keen to see a peaceful transition only, but also because the world sees great political and economic potential in Bangladesh. The country, in spite of political instability, has been recording a 6 % annual growth rate over the past decade. A country that was a development challenge is now a role model in many ways to the other developing countries around the world. This is something that the world cherishes and would like Bangladesh to move along these lines. But the political troubles could frustrate all that.
For some time now, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has been closely monitoring the political developments in Bangladesh. He has written to both the leaders and has telephoned them. But there has been no tangible development. The European Union has been equally persistent to dissuade the two leaders from any confrontation. Yet the two have merrily gone forward and arrived at this terrible political situation. The United States government has also sent high officials several times time to persuade the two leaders to sit down and talk. US Secretary of State John Kerry has also made his demarche but to no avail. So where does it leave the international community?
Last week, the head of human rights in the UN Ms. Navi Pillay sent a short message to both the leaders denouncing actions that are causing disruption in peaceful pursuit of life by the people of Bangladesh. She sees this as denying the practice of human rights. She emphatically warned that if the leaders did not stop the carnage on innocent people the UN would have no option but to bring charges against them in the International Criminal Court established under the Statue of Rome. How much of this is a hollow threat and how much is real depends on how things take shape in the coming days. But there are precedents that such prosecution was done after the mayhem and killing perpetrated before the Kenyan national elections in 2007. There are suggestions that this could be done in other countries too.
It is the ego of the leaders that is the prime mover in unleashing the power that is causing disruption in the life and livelihood of the people in Bangladesh. The two leaders need to sit down with their senior advisers and find a way out of the political impasse. Perhaps both the sides have to give up much in order to arrive at a resolution and the elections to be participatory, peaceful and fair.
Martin Luther King, the US civil rights leader, had once said: "We must accept finite disappointments, but we must never lose infinite hope." Our leaders must be willing to give up something now in order to get much more in the future.
The writer is a former Ambassador and a commentator on current affairs.
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