Bangladesh Set for Polls amidst Turmoil To Avoid Constitutional Crisis
AMIDST continuous violence and refusal of the main opposition party BNP and allies to participate in the poll, Bangladesh is going for election to constitute its 10th parliament on January 5, 2014 next. Ruling Awami League leaders said without the participation of the main opposition party, elections to national parliament is not a happy thing. But there is no other alternative other than going for election as the tenure of the present parliament will end on January 24 next. To avoid a constitutional crisis, elections have to be held before the tenure of the present parliament expires. Otherwise there will be a constitutional vacuum. Awami League leaders also alleged that the BNP and its main partner Islamic Fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami is deliberately trying to create a constitutional crisis by demanding the cancellation of the election schedule announced by the Election Commission of Bangladesh. BNP and its allies did not file any nomination and are preventing others from joining in the election and are trying to disrupt the poll process by calling continuous hartals, blocking roads, rails and waterways and indulging in widespread violence including burning alive passengers and transport workers by hurling petrol bombs in running vehicles, killing train passengers by engineering accidents by uprooting rail tracks and fishplates, burning buses, trucks, auto-rickshaws, private cars etc. On November 26, the Election Commission declared the poll schedule. Demanding the cancellation of the schedule, the BNP has so far called for blockade for 4 times for 72 hours, 174 hours, 72 and 131 hours respectively. Since then, 59 persons got killed including 16 persons who were burnt alive by the BNP and its allies. Property worth several hundreds of crores of Railways, Road Transport Corporation and private owners was completely destroyed by the anti-poll agitators. Jamaat-e-Islami and BNP workers are also calculatedly attacking minorities. Hundreds of houses, shops, places of worship were burnt down, vandalized and looted. Many minority families fled away from their houses. The BNP and the Jamaat-e-Islami started and gradually stepped up their violent undemocratic agitation after the Sheikh Hasina government set up two International Crime Tribunals to conduct trials of war criminals of 1971 for their inhuman and barbaric atrocities in collaboration with the Pakistani Army. And they are also agitating against the 15th amendment of the Bangladesh constitution. Bangladesh Supreme Court in its historic judgement delivered in 2011 held unconstitutional the amendments passed by the former military ruler Zia Ur Rahaman and H M Ershad. The Supreme Court ruled that constitutional and governance system shall have to maintain continuity. As per the Supreme Court verdict, a parliamentary committee was set up who met a cross-section of people and also received several written submissions. After a careful study, the special parliamentary committee prepared the 15th amendment proposals and placed it before the parliament for consideration. But the BNP abstained from attending the parliament session. They did not make any submission to the special parliamentary committee either. The parliament passed the 15th amendment to the constitution. As per the Supreme Court verdict, the parliament abolished the caretaker government system during election with the non-elected people. After passing of 15th constitutional amendment, the BNP started violent agitation against the constitutional amendment and demanded that caretaker government system with the non-elected people should be reincorporated. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and 14-party alliance made it clear that there is no scope for forming a caretaker government with the non-elected people. Elected government will act as a caretaker government and all powers shall be vested with the Election Commission for conducting free, fair and peaceful election. The government will not interfere in the decision making process of Election Commission. The prime minister personally made a telephone call to BNP President Khaleda Zia and requested her for a dialogue to resolve the impasse for the smooth conduct of elections. But Khaleda Zia did not respond to the invitation of the prime minister for dialogue, instead called for a three-day strike. For accommodating all political parties in the election, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, on her own, initiated discussion for forming an all party election time government and offered Home and other important portfolios to the BNP. But Khaleda Zia demanded that Sheikh Hasina shall have to step down from the prime minister’s post which Awami League leaders rejected by saying it is totally unacceptable as the demand is undemocratic and unjustified. From the Election Commission it was also made clear several times that level playing field will be ensured to conduct free, fair and peaceful parliament election. But all were in vain. The Election Commission waited for several weeks, expecting for a political settlement between the two main political parties. Ultimately the Commission declared poll schedule on November 26 last to fulfill constitutional obligation. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent Assistant Secretary General (Political) Oscar Fernandez Taranco to Bangladesh as his special emissary. Taranco held several rounds of discussion with the leaders of the main two parties and pursued them to sit together. In his presence, two rounds of talks were held in the second week of December between the Awami League and the BNP leaders but without any progress, as the BNP is insisting that Sheikh Hasina shall have to resign from the prime ministership. In the meantime, one of the top Jamaat-e-Islami leader and 1971 war criminal Kader Mollah was hanged on December 12 in Dhaka Central Jail. This is the first execution after conviction by the International Tribunal and by the Supreme Court. Jamaat-e-Islami resorted to widespread violence again and killed 17 people so far, most of them Awami League leaders and cadres and are attacking minorities. Pakistan government led by Nawaz Sharif has passed a resolution in the Pakistan National Assembly on Monday last saying that Kader Mollah was an ardent supporter of united Pakistan. Pakistani Home Minister Nisar Khan also made a statement against hanging of Kader Mollah. Bangladesh government and several political parties and cultural groups protested against the Pakistani government for interfering in the internal affairs of Bangladesh and passing caustic comments on the decision of judiciary. Pakistani high commissioner in Dhaka was summoned to foreign ministry and handed over a protest letter. Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon alleged that Pakistan is directly involved in the present spate of violence in Bangladesh. One of the senior leaders of Awami League and Communication Minister Obaidul Kader told the newsmen on December 17 that there is no scope for adjustment with the BNP in the present election as there is no time left. He said, talks would continue and there can be adjustment in the formation of the 11th parliament.