Reform plan imperils Bangla democracy

An army-backed plan to marginalise Bangl-adesh’s main political parties and their leaders may result in serious damage to the democratic fabric of the country, say observers. After failing to send two long-serving former PMs into exile the military-backed interim government has now set in motion plans to divide their parties by encouraging internal dissensions. A group of senior leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by its secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan, has already unveiled a reform plan that will exclude party chief Begum Khaleda Zia, who has served two terms as PM, from positions of power.

The reform plan proposes that the party president be elected by a national executive committee for a period of three years and serve not more than two terms. “If the party chief becomes PM, he or she would leave the party post immediately,” the proposal says. This would mean Khaleda Zia can no longer become either party chief or PM in future, having headed the party for more than 20 years and served two terms as PM. A group within the rival Awami League is working out a similar plan to keep out its chief Sheikh Hasina Wajed, also a former PM, from retaining situations of power.

Similarly the Jatiya Party, the third largest political outfit in the country, has announced that Rawshan Ershad would now be its leader, replacing her husband and former president HM Ershad. In a statement Ershad said the group led by his wife did not have the legitimacy to remove him. “It’s clear that the so-called reforms of the parties are nothing but the plan of excluding the two top women leaders from politics as desired by the government,” Harun-or Rashid, dean of the social science faculty of Dhaka University, said.

Rashid who teaches political science said it was obvious that the emergency regime was restricting political activity to a few handpicked people who are now going about reforming their respective parties. “With this discriminatory attitude, the present government has become a party instead of playing the role of an umpire for the next elections,” he said. The interim government has imposed movement restrictions on both Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina — arch-rivals who have ruled the country for alternative terms since 1991. The parties led by Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina shared nearly 75% of the total votes in all elections in the last one-and-a-half decades after democracy was restored in 1991 following the fall of a military dictatorship run by HM Ershad.

President of Bangladesh Political Science Association Prof. Ataur Rahman said: “It (commonality) is not unusual... in the past things happened in the major political parties the other way round — powers were concentrated in dynastic leadership...These need to be corrected.” But Prof. Rashid was doubtful about the prospect of reforms with its “minus-two solution’’ aimed at the two women leaders. The New Age daily in its editorial on Jun. 28 said, “The drastic reforms within the political parties are essential. They would have to be brought about in an open political environment and through the spontaneous movement of the leaders and activists of the parties who demand such reforms.”

“Forced reforms in a climate of fear, in our view, will fail to deliver democracy within the parties or in society,” the editorial added. — IPS