Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013

Opposition’s 48-hour ultimatum

Prospect of talks in a bind

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s offer of talks to the opposition for reaching an understanding on ways to hold national election with participation of all political parties has met with rejection from the opposition. The nation is left disappointed. Khaleda Zia in her massive public rally at Shapla Chattar yesterday gave a 48-hour ultimatum to the government to announce its decision to restore caretaker government system or else she would accentuate movement for the ouster of the incumbent government. Expressing solidarity with Hefajat-e Islam’s siege programme scheduled today, she virtually seemed to have leaned on the radical side as counter-poise to Shahbagh Projonmo Chottor.
With the pronouncement of an ultimatum, the barometer of political temperature has shot up. We have to see how Hefajat-e Islam’s blockade programme goes today to be able to gauge the level of tension.
However sympathetic we have been with the opposition’s sentiments over a lack of space and oppression they have been subjected to, we have to say that ultimatum is not the language of democratic politics.
The spirit in which the prime minister had offered talks to the opposition should have been met with some reciprocity in view of the fact that without discussion between major political parties no pathway can be laid for peaceable and negotiated settlement of the interim caretaker issue.
This brings the stance of the opposition BNP into a sharper focus. Its insistence that the government concede the demand for a restoration of the caretaker system has in recent days been tempered by a call for a credible election-time government prior to the actual voting. That seems like having the potential for a good beginning, a process the opposition will have been well advised to carry forward through engaging the ruling party in negotiations across the table.
But we must make it abundantly clear that the government needs to release all the detained opposition leaders and withdraw cases against them by way of proving its bona fides in regard to creating an atmosphere conducive to holding a dialogue between the two sides. This is absolutely crucial for the flickering prospect for talks to materialise in some shape or form. We should emphasise here that laying any precondition to the talks cannot be helpful just as an open-ended unfocused discourse would be of little meaning.