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     Volume 5 Issue 122 | December 1, 2006 |

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Dashed Hopes and Disturbing Trends

Aasha Mehreen Amin

Advisors to the Caretaker Government have been continuously ignored by the Chief Advisor regarding major decisions

Politics in Bangladesh has reached its murkiest these days. Ever since President Iajuddin Ahmed's self appointment as Chief Advisor to the caretaker government, the people of this country have been witness to a long series of political dillydallying and blatant manipulation that has shaken the very foundation of our democracy. A citizen's basic (and perhaps the only one left) right is the right to vote freely, for whoever he or she considers an able and fit candidate. But even this has come under threat because the immediate past government has managed to pull off the most complicated farce in history.

November 22, a Wednesday, was to be the day of delivery from the mind-boggling political fiasco that the nation has been (and still is) undergoing. The whole day went by in an agonised wait with journalists in a frenzy, hungry for some significant answer from the caretaker government to the question: Would MA Aziz step down? Even when an impassive-faced Aziz walked out of his office without a word to the journalists and was whisked away by a horde of security men like the most wanted celebrity in town, no one had a clue about the ominous developments that were about to happen.

After extensive meetings with the next most mysterious man of the year - the president cum chief advisor, three washed out advisors came out to face the waiting journalists who pounced on them like a pack of wolves. But again the answers were far from satisfactory. A harassed Information Advisor Mahbubul Alam told the reporters that the CEC had verbally informed the president that he would take a three-month leave of absence and the president was waiting for a written confirmation. When this confirmation would take place, who would replace the CEC, the advisors could not say.

Late at night when most people had given up and gone to bed, the much-awaited presidential address was aired but turned out to be another mystifying monologue. After repeating the same thing that MA Aziz had agreed to go on a three-month leave so that he would stay aloof from the electoral process, the chief advisor declared that this should end the political stand off and insisted that now there was no alternative but to get on with the election. He also mentioned that two more commissioners would be appointed. After doling out this unsatisfactory pacifier the president said that he hoped that 'electioneering' of all concerned should start without delay! The fact that removal of the CEC was only one of the conditions that would make the Election Commission free from controversy, was blatantly ignored. None of the other demands of the 14-party alliance and other political parties were mentioned in the presidential address. Funnily enough, the BNP-led coalition leaders, who had been so adamant about not accepting the removal of M A Aziz through any pressure, later lauded the president for resolving the issue 'constitutionally'. Obviously it was because they knew that merely removing the CEC would not change anything since the next person in line would be someone from their own turf.

Again pettiness overtook good sense.

The election schedule has been announced without any sign of reconstitution of the Election Commission

The Al-led coalition decided to hold a 'victory festival' (for its partial conquest) although under the parameters of the ongoing, economically debilitating blockade. The BNP-led four party coalition had demanded that the 14 party alliance must not hold any victory parade celebrating the CEC's removal. Thus ego battles overruled yet again with both parties claiming their own victory and their opponent's defeat.

Now it seems that we are diving further deep into the quagmire. The CEC has been replaced by one of the very election commissioners the 14 party alliance wanted removed as part of the EC's reconstitution. What's more this newly self-appointed CEC in consultation with the chief advisor has announced the election schedule for January 21, just as demanded by the BNP and its allies. es (including the Liberal Democratic Party LDP comprising defected, disillusioned with their former BNP) have rejected the controversial polls schedule. Eleven leaders of the 14 party alliance, a faction of Jatiya Party (JP), LDP, Zaker party (a disgruntled faction of Islami Oikya Jote) and Islamic Front jointly filed three writ petitions with the high Court against the president's assumption of the post of chief advisor to the CG, his exercising executive powers unilaterally, and the EC's move to declare the election schedule before publishing the voter list. The advisors of the caretaker government have, according to newspaper reports, vehemently protested the two arbitrary decisions at a meeting with the chief advisor who remained characteristically unmoved.

The moves have surprised and disconcerted just about everyone including former caretaker governments' advisors, ex bureaucrats, jurists and academicians. Announcing the polls schedule without consulting the major political parties, without correcting the voter list, without resolving the issue about the EC's reconstitution, have left no doubt that the chief advisor and election commission have been consistently working according to the former ruling coalition's wishes.

The future therefore, continues to hold too many uncertainties for any optimism regarding a free and fair election. The recent media scoop about a secret party of a group of senior civil servants at former energy advisor Mahmudur Rahman's house, has only increased public suspicion and unease. In a scenario where the work and sincerity of the CG advisors are being constantly thwarted by unilateral decisions by the chief advisor it is hard to see how, in a little over a month, the caretaker government will clean up the mess. Will it be able to reconstitute the EC the way the majority voices want? Will the CG be able to recover illegal arms within this short time? Will they be able to ensure that clean candidates get a fair chance to stand in these elections? Will it be able to stop black money and political thuggery from influencing which way the votes are tilted?

It seems like asking for the moon and then some. But perhaps there is a remote chance that even this Herculean task of cleansing the electoral process and administration would be possible IF the Chief Advisor listened to his council and worked with them rather than himself and his 'political advisors'. Unfortunately nothing could be iffier.




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