By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan.
The BNP has announced a major rally in Dhaka on March 12 as a “culmination” of its programme for reinstatement of caretaker government before election.
A similar rally tried by the BNP coalition in Dhaka on December 18 ended in chaos with some activist elements exploding crude devices to frighten the security forces. What looked like an attempt to repeat a “Tahrir” type of uprising ended in failure. The Police anticipating the agenda of the activists took firm and decisive action.
Another major rally was initially proposed to be held on the 29th of January. There were plans by the ruling party to have counter demonstrations and this would have inevitably resulted in violent clashes, loss of lives and property. Both parties have since moved from the brink.
The Opposition has now proposed to hold the rally on the 12th of March instead. The Ruling alliance has declared that it will not hold demonstrations on the 12th and instead will start with a demonstration on the 11th forming human chains with a demand to expedite the war crime trials now going on. The objectives may look different but both are intended for a “show of strength.”
The BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir made a provocative statement on the 26th of January that the Awami led Government will be ousted from power through a mass uprising (emphasis ours) and not through army coup!
If the mass rally is meant to force the government to restore the care taker system of the government, then the BNP leadership should really consider the following.
1.The outgoing Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda said on 3rd February that free parliamentary polls in the present circumstance is difficult but not impossible if “electoral laws are amended” and some ministries and divisions were controlled by the Election Commission during the elections. His proposal included that between the dissolution and formation of a new one- the government will not take any decision without consulting the EC relating to parliamentary elections that included the conduct of business of cabinet decisions, ministries of Home and Public Affairs.
2. The previous election commission appointed by the care taker regime that successfully completed the 9th parliamentary election conducted subsequently several elections to the local bodies, city corporations without complaint.
3. It should be clear by now that the constitutional amendment made to abolish the care taker system cannot be rolled back. The BNP’s opposition to the formation of the new Election Commission has not been accepted and the Government in accordance with the direction of the President formed a search Committee. The search committee in turn after getting the suggestions of parties willing to suggest had recommended the names and the government has faithfully followed the recommendations and formed the Election Commission on 8th February. The new members of the Commission are all former bureaucrats and judges and totally apolitical. The whole process from the time the President started the consultations to the appointment of the members of the Commission have been totally legal with no political pressure whatsoever. I mention this only to highlight the fact that the present set up in the Election Commission is capable of taking independent decisions as the members do not owe their position to any of the political parties. The Civil society has welcomed the appointment of the new CEC and has described it as “very competent, free from political influence and the has the ability to work independently.”
4. On 8th Feb. Alamgir of BNP who had insisted all along on the next polls under a care taker government changed his position and said that his party is now willing to accept a “non political” government to oversee the next parliamentary elections. The Chairperson of BNP Khaleda Zia has also endorsed this position.
5. The Awami League on its part has not only decided not to have any counter programmes on the 12th but had asked the opposition to place the proposal of an interim government in the Parliament so that it could be discussed in a proper forum. In other words, it is not averse to discuss the alternatives provided it is done in the proper manner and not in the streets.
If the idea of the mass rally is for toppling the lawfully elected government- then it is a serious matter and the AL government will be fully justified in putting it out with a firm hand.
Popularity polls made in the beginning of this year by some respected analysts showed that both the major parties the Awami League and the BNP had retained the strength of those committed to the respective parties though the non committed have moved away from the Awami League government.
The BNP by trying to force the change by “mass uprising” as suggested by its Secretary General will only lose its sympathy of those not committed to either of the two parties.
No inspiration should be drawn from the developments in Maldives. The BNP should re evaluate its strategy and go for a dialogue rather than go to the streets and avoid attending the parliament.