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|Volume 11 |Issue 37| September 21, 2012 ||
The Supreme Leader Challenged
The Constitution of Bangladesh provides Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with the absolute authority to induct anyone into her council of ministers. She also has the sweeping power to fire anybody from the council of ministers. And if she resigns as the premier, the tenure of all other members of the council of ministers expires automatically. In addition to this unfettered authority, Hasina is empowered with the power to appoint as her advisers and special assistants as many persons as she deems necessary. Immediately after assuming office in January 2009, Hasina advised President Zillur Rahman to amend the government's rules of business to provide her with such power.
What are the functions of advisers? The amended rules of business authorises the premier to determine the terms and conditions of the appointment as she deems expedient "in public interest", allowing her to let any of the advisers or special assistants to attend meetings of the cabinet or any other government committee. And an adviser or a special assistant will be obliged to carry out any special task assigned to him or her by the prime minister from time to time.
After emerging as a more powerful premier, Hasina, in the middle of 2009, consolidated her authority further in her party ruling Awami League by dropping the party's most of the stalwarts from the party's presidium, who were also not inducted into her cabinet. Therefore, there is no doubt that she has emerged as a supreme leader in both of her government and party. And there was no one to question her leadership in the cabinet and the party.
But the situation has changed a lot in the last four years. Hasina might not have perceived the developments which have exposed her lack of political wisdom. And it came as a sudden shock when his party's senior leader Tofail Ahmed and Rashed Khan Menon, chief of Workers Party, a component of her party-led ruling alliance, refused to become ministers. Their refusal is unprecedented in the contemporary history of Bangladesh politics. In the prevailing political culture, ruling party MPs always remain eager to get the premier's blessing to be inducted into the council of ministers. Considering the political culture, Hasina must have thought Tofail and Menon would merrily accept her proposal and join her cabinet.
But both the leaders seem to have relied on their political wisdom and refused to join Hasina's government which is embattled by a number of problems like share market crash, alleged corruption in Padma bridge project and the Hall-Mark loan scam. The image of the government has been largely tainted. But PM Hasina did not take any bold steps to brighten her government's image. Many political analysts say Hasina might have planned to prevent Tofail and Menon from criticising her government more in the coming days and to strengthen her cabinet by including the two senior leaders. She should have personally talked to the two leaders to convince them to join her cabinet. But she did not do so. She gave their names to the cabinet secretary for taking preparation for their appointment as ministers and oath in offices. But her plan did not work in the changing the political situation.
From AL leader Tofail Ahmed's part, the refusal to join the cabinet has been a diplomatic move. He says he is not mentally, socially and politically prepared now to join the government. He also says that he might not be able to do anything by joining the cabinet. He however says that he likes to work as a party worker. Many political analysts believe Tofail took the decision out of frustration as he has been humiliated by Hasina as she did not make him minister at the beginning of her tenure. Moreover, Hasina dropped him from the party presidium in the middle of 2009. AL leaders close to Tofail said he wanted to regain his power in the party by becoming the party's presidium member.
There is no denying that Tofail's decision has annoyed Hasina and the party's other senior leaders loyal to Hasina. So, he may have to pay heavily for his refusal to become a minister. On September 15, at a meeting of AL central working committee, AL General Secretary and LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam urged party leaders to examine whether Tofail's refusal was part of any conspiratorial politics. According to Ashraf, Tofail had penned a disgraceful chapter by refusing to be a minister and deprived the voters of his constituency. Tofail had responsibilities for the party but he shirked it all. Ashraf further said that everybody knew what leaders like Tofail Ahmed did during the military-backed caretaker government's term in office.
At the meeting AL Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said that former AL lawmakers and leaders Sultan Mohammad Mansur Ahmed, Mahmudur Rahman Manna, Abu Sayeed and Abdul Mannan, among others, had long been involved in a conspiracy against the party.
Many party leaders supported the view and requested the party chief to take action against them and warned lawmaker Golam Maula Rony over “write-ups and statements tarnishing the image of the government and the party”. In response, Hasina said she would let them know of her decisions at the next party meeting.
The same day AL leader and former railway minister Suranjit Sengupta has added fuel to the growing speculation by saying that Tofail and Menon's refusal to be ministers "a forecast of a new equation of new politics". Suranjit, who was also dropped from the AL presidium and was not made minister at the beginning of Hasina's government, however did not elaborate what may be the new equation. Many people still believe something is going on behind the scene to give the ongoing political landscape a new shape.
Workers Party leader Menon however did not hesitate to open his mind. He did not follow Tofail's suit. He openly questioned the way Hasina offered him ministry. He alleged that due political process was not followed to offer him to join the government.
“The cabinet secretary phoned me and asked if I would take the oath to join the council of ministers. I have no knowledge if anyone in a civilised country becomes a minister after being invited in such a manner,” said Menon, who also accused the AL of not honouring the AL-led 14 alliance's joint pledges to run the country.
During the past BNP-led government, the AL-led 14-party-alliance had pledged to wage movement together against the then government, to contest polls together and run the country together when it wins the polls. But after winning the December 29, 2008, parliamentary polls, the AL chose to 'go alone'. Menon and leaders of the other components of the AL-led alliance on several occasions have expressed their grievances at the AL policy. But the AL high command did not pay any heed to them. AL's policy also irked leaders of Jatiya Party, a key component of AL-led alliance. As per the media reports, Jatiya Party has also refused to let its other leaders to join Hasina's cabinet a few months ago.
The prevailing situation suggests that the AL's go alone policy has already largely damaged its relation with its other electoral partners. And ahead of the next parliamentary polls, it will be clearer whether Hasina's supreme leadership faces more open challenges like the ones we saw last week.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.
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