Democracy in the South
A majority of the leaders (Four on Seven) who visited Dhaka for the summit meeting of the South Asian Regional Conference (SAARC) are not democratically elected. Of them, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the president of the Maldives, has been in power of this tiny nation of atolls for the last 27 years. Unprecedented anti-government riots broke out in the capital Male in September 2003, sparked by deaths of four prison inmates. The President dismissed his police chief and promised to "look into" the matter, nothing has happened; one month later, Gayoom was re-elected for the sixth times in a row, in a referendum, winning more than 90 percent of the vote.
|Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
In June 2002, police arrested Fathimath Nisreen, along with three fellow activists, for working on an email newsletter that exposed Gayoom government's alleged corruption and human rights abuse. Though media rights group Reporters sans Frontiers said they did not find any call to violence in the email newsletter, Nisreen was kept in jail for two years.
Last year the European Union parliament called for a travel ban on Maldives officials because of the imprisoning of dissidents. The Male government regularly resorts to arrest and intimidation to quell people's desire to have a free and democratic country.
The main opposition Maldevian Democratic Party contested the elections that were held in January this year; and with most of its leaders in exile the party begged 12 seats of the 50-member strong Majlish, the legislative council. Gayoom retained the right to select eight members, which also included the Speaker of the council. Multi-party politics has been allowed only in June this year, but Gayoom's hold on power remains as tight as ever.
South Asia has got another leader who resorts to so-called referendums (yes/no votes) when he smells a problem. Like every other Third World dictators, Pakistani President Gen Parvez Musharraf came to power in a bloodless coup in 1999, ousting the elected government of Mia Nowaz Sharif. In 2002 Musharraf awarded himself another five years as president. In November 2002, elections were held under the military dictatorship. Though Pakistan was suspended from the Commonwealth, the September 11 terrorist attacks on the US has suddenly made the military ruler a darling of the West; the country was later reinstated into the group. Musharraf's rule has, however, witnessed the births of a number of TV channels; but his unalloyed fealty to US foreign policy has antagonised the dictator's own subjects. If one has to look for a reason for the spiralling religious extremism in the country one has to consider the lack of democracy in the country.
Things are even worse in Nepal. On June 1, 2001, Crown Prince Dipendra, apparently because his mother would not let him marry the girl he loved, killed the King Birendra, his mother Queen Ayshowria, and a host of uncles and aunts. Birendra's brother Gaynendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev assumed power. Gaynendra has been very unpopular among general Nepalese for his son Paras Shah, who has earned a good deal of notoriety. Paras, before becoming heir to the throne, is reported to have hit and killed a popular singer with his car whilst under the influence of liquor.
In February this year King Gaynendra sacked, for the second time, the elected government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. Though the King has said to remain loyal to Multi-Party democracy, there is no sign of Nepal coming back to the democratic world.
Bhutan, which literally means the "Land of the Thunder Dragon", has been an isolationist hermit kingdom till it began opening up its territory to the outsiders in 1970. The King Jigme Singye Wangchuk came to the throne in 1972 at the age of just 17, assuming the title of "Druk Gyalpo" or Dragon King. Television was introduced to the country only in 1999. The King gave up some of his absolute powers in 1998, but still he has the last say in the policy decisions of the country.
Except for Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka the other members of the SAARC lack the minimum standards of democracy and human rights. It is small wonder that 43 percent of the world's poor live in the region, for without democracy economic emancipation is meant to remain a far cry.
Banning Women from Shopping
RECENTLY, a fatwa was issued by former chairman of Haripur union parishad Mahbubul Haque of Jaintapur Upazila in Sylhet, banning women from shopping! Not only does this prove of men misusing their so-called god-gifted power of taking decisions, they are now clamping down on women restricting their freedom of movement by issuing fatwas Bangladesh Mahila Parishad condemned it and demanded that the chairman be punished so that something similar of this sort does not get repeated in the future.
It seems that the chairman had also announced that traders would be fined Tk 500 if they sell any commodity to women. He said that the decision was taken with the consent of the elders of the area to stop anti-social activities in the marketplace.
This announcement was made through loudspeakers, which had women stay home since they were stopped from coming to the Haripur market for Eid shopping and those who came were not able to buy anything from the shops.
The Mahila Parishad statement said fatwa is a violation of women's democratic and civic rights, especially if it did not make any sense what-so ever. "This cannot be the picture of any civilised society," it added.
Terror Strikes Again
WHEN the hoopla surrounding the 13th summit was over and presumably the security forces were taking a snooze, terror struck in Jhalakathi. Last Tuesday, Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) men hurled a powerful bomb at a microbus carrying two senior judges in the southern town. Judges Jagannath Pandey and Sohel Ahmed died in the vehicle that crushed due to the impact of the blast. Five people were injured, including the 28-year-old assassin Iftekhar Hasan Al Mamun, who confessed to his membership to outlawed the JMB.
According to police sources Mamun was on a suicide mission, for, while being taken to the hospital he tried to detonate another bomb which was strapped to his thigh. Police and Rab members thwarted the attempt, and Mamun gave a confessional statement to the Magistrate.
Religious extremists have targeted the judiciary before; on August 17, the JMB planted around 500 bombs across the country, some of them were left in small packages on the court premises.
The government's reaction to subsequent terrorist attacks is very shady. The ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) first denied the presence of these extremist outfits in the country; now the party pretends to wage a self-proclaimed Jihad against the fundamentalists, where in reality, the BNP relies heavily on these Islamists parties to breath freely.
The BNP's Doctor-Jekyll-and-Hyde attitude towards this issue has so far cost the country dearly; one wonders how many more deaths it will take to make the BNP understand that so many people have, in fact, died and now is the time to deliver.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005