Khaleda and Hasina lock horns again

Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia and her principal political rival Sheikh Hasina, the opposition leader in parliament, shared the same platform for the first time in the past 15 months. Even at personal level, the two are seldom seen to be talking. The two women politicians generally swap the positions of prime minister and leader of the opposition. They hardly miss any opportunity of hurling criticisms at each other. With such a relationship between the two heavyweights, the country’s political situation also took a nosedive.

Problems between the four-party coalition government led by Khaleda’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Hasina’s Awami league-led 14-party opposition combine became worse in recent times over several issues — the chief being the opposition reform proposal of the current system of non-partisan caretaker govenment that conducts national elections in the country and opposition reservations about the present chief election commissioner and two of his colleagues. On Tuesday, they addressed the parliament.

The tenure of this legislature expires in October and the general elections are due within three months of its dissolution under a non-party caretaker administration. But this time the whole procedure appears unceretain as the oposition has made their participation in the polls contingent upon reforming the caretaker government and the election commission. The government says these issues are irrelevant since the country has accepted the neutral caretaker system, but expressed willingness to discuss these matters with the opposition. “We are willing to set up a committee composed of the alliance and oposition members to discuss the government’s reforms,” said PM Khaleda while Hasina earlier told the House that the opposition’s proposals must be accepted or the government should quit. Main opposition Awami League decided to return only on February 12. One of the main reasons for its long boycott was inadequate time given to the opposition in the House to disuss burning issues, a charge the alliance denies.

However, Khaleda’s position on reform has not pacified Hasina, who later said that the prime minister’s views were “vague and a stunt” to confuse the people. Khaleda said Awami league did not consider its necessary to reform the present caretaker government system when it was in power, but is now raising a hue and cry over the issue.

It appears that positions taken by the two sides are unlikely to help resolve the present political stalemate. However, the government’s readiness to discuss the issues may provide a basis for a dialogue even though the main oposition seems reluctant to respond to the olive branch offered by the ruling alliance. Since time is left for a reconciliation, a settlement is not ruled out while the oposition is seeking to keep the pot boiling through meetings and agitations across the country. The government is holding rallies to counter the oposition campaign. One silver living is the opposition’s return to the House and the government’s softening of the stance on reforms, the bone of contention.

Chowdhury, foreign editor at BSS, writes for THT from Dhaka