Election, one of the main vehicles of democracy, was characterized with large- scale manipulation, massive vote rigging, and involvement of money and muscle power soon after the independence of the country. So, election lost its credibility among the people and political parties. But for the democracy, free and fair election is the major requirements. The meaning of ‘Free and fair’ possibly differs from country-to–country and culture-to-culture, and the concept of democracy also may not be the same in all democratic countries. Karim mentioned the meaning of free and fair election as follows: ‘In the context of Bangladesh, refers to an election, which is not necessarily flawless, not free from all irregularities, or not absolutely perfect. However, an election, which is free from relatively major irregularities or where the irregularities were not systematic and did not alter the outcome of election, could be termed free and fair as long as the observed result grossly reflects the will of the electorate, irregularities are random and not sponsored by the state’. (Karim, 2001:3). From the very beginning of the independence of the country, the system of elections had a bad start with unfair means like rigging, proxy votes through impersonation, snatching of ballot boxes, political intimidation and use of government facilities. Political parties were in great lack of trust. Military intervention has vitiated the unhindered political development of Bangladesh. Corruption and violation were the normal task. People of Bangladesh were used to seeing so many irregularities in the elections. In these circumstances, the demand of Caretaker government was the only way-out to improve this situation and politics in Bangladesh seems to have taken a new turn since November 1990.
The Non- Party Caretaker Government (NCG) was first introduced in Bangladesh in 1990 when Three Party alliances jointly made a demand for it. Constitutionally it was formed in 1996 by the Parliament dominated by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The main responsibility of the Non Party Caretaker Government is to help to organize parliamentary elections in credible manner.
NCG is a form of government which rules the country by a group of non-partisan elites. The objective of the Caretaker Government is to create an environment in which an election can be held in a free and fair manner without any political influence of the incumbent government. After holding elections, the NCG transfers power to the elected government.
Caretaker Government was first introduced in Bangladesh in 1990 when three party alliances jointly made a demand for it. Constitutionally it was formed in 1996. A non-party Caretaker Government now runs the routine administration of the country during the interim between the dissolution of parliament and the assumption of power by a new government after the election of a new legislature. As per the mandate, the NCG is barred from policy making.
During the first two decades of independence of Bangladesh, none of the governments completed its five year term. Some corrupted political leaders co-operated the high ambitious army officers. As a result democratic norms and values were faked in political culture. But a neutral and fair electoral system is one of the pre- conditions of democracy. Elections under party governments always do not reflect public opinion; nor do they generally offer an opportunity to confer legitimacy on those who want to rule. The Study is seriously intended to look into the demand of the fair election and the prospective role of the democratization process in Bangladesh.
Actually elections and voting behavior from 1991 to 2006 reflect the forms, levels and bases fairness of the national elections. The election from 1991 to 2006 under Caretaker Government demands to know elaborately how these elections make to develop the democratic process of Bangladesh.
A caretaker government was first introduced in 1990 when three party alliances jointly made a demand to appeal for it. In 2006, the system was activated for the fourth time. It was again activated on 11 January 2007, and the newly appointed government has been running the nation up to the date of 29 December, 2008. If we want to know about the history of caretaker government in Bangladesh at first we should divide the history in some parts for the reason of systematically analyzed. At the first part we should analyzed when caretaker government was first introduced.
7.01 The first Caretaker Governemnt of 1990
Bangladesh had two caretaker governments before the one appointed in 2001. The first caretaker government was appointed in 1990 following the resignation of Hussain Mohammad Ershad. The major political parties which had launched the agitation against the autocratic rule of Ershad did not any election under him and agreed to the formation of a non-party, neutral caretaker government.
As such the framework for the formation of caretaker government advanced when the Joint Declaration was translated into reality on 6 December 1990 through the handing over state power to the nominee of the combined opposition Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, the Chief Justice of Bangladesh. Earlier, the then Vice President Moudud Ahmed resigned and Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed was installed as the Vice President. Then General Ershad stepped down from the presidency giving his charge to the Chief Justice emerging as the country’s Acting President and head of the neutral Caretaker government. Subsequently, 17 Advisers of the caretaker government were appointed. It was to be mentioned that the neutral caretaker government of 1990 was constituted without any prior constitutional amendments. It was understandable that there was indeed a difficulty in convening the existing Jatiya Sangsad owing to shortage of time.
The caretaker government of Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed, however, had the basis of support from the general people and parties and thus the legality of its activities was never questioned. All measures taken by the caretaker government were thus subsequently ratified in 1991 by the popularly elected Fifth Jatiya Sangsad.
The new government took office on December 7, 1990 and was headed by justice Shahabuddin Ahmed who was nominated by the 8-party, 7-party and 11-party alliances. Soon after assuming office, he addressed the secretaries to the government in the Cabinet room of the secretariat and promised to make all out efforts to hold a free and fair election for establishing a truly democratic government fulfilling the hopes and aspirations of the people. The caretaker government took several steps for this purpose.
First, it repealed the executive orders issued under the Press and Publications Act of 1973 and formed a 10 member committee headed by a Supreme Court judge with the representatives from the journalists, editors, owners of the newspapers, and Journalism Department of Dhaka University to examine the provisions of the Act.
Second, it made some changes in the Representation of the People Order 1972
for imposing stiffer punishment for election offences. To prevent vote buying and resorting to corruptions, strict laws were made to regulate the election expenses by increasing the terms of imprisonment and the amount of fines.
Third, the local governments – the Union Parishads and Paurashavas were given special responsibilities for maintaining peace during the polling time. Under Union Parishad and Paurashava (Special Responsibilities) Ordinance 1991, the government could dissolve any Union Parishad or Paurashava if they had failed to discharge their responsibilities of maintaining peace and discipline from the last day of the nomination to the next 7 days after the completion of the election. They were required to keep in touch with law enforcing agencies and report all the disturbances. Any local government that would fail in their duties would be dissolved.
Fourth, the government prohibited the use of all jeeps and cars of the Upazila Parishad for party election campaign. It instructed all the Deputy Commissioners of the districts to report to the government within 48 hours of the closing of the poll whether the union Parishads and the Paurashavas have carried out their responsibilities in maintaining law and order during the election.
Fifth, the heads of the local governments were ordered to maintain strict neutrality or face dismissal.
Sixth, the caretaker government made some new rules for the accuracy of the voting procedures. It introduced a new indelible ink which would be used on the hand of the voters so that they could not vote again, and designed a new rubber stamp to mark the ballot papers. To prevent the misuse of the ballot papers, the government decided not to print additional ballot papers. In addition to making new laws and introducing new procedures, the government launched an extensive voter education programs on the voting procedures which was needed because of the large illiterate voters.
To stop violence during the election, the government initiated a program of collecting illegal arms. On December 12, the government directed to surrender all illegal arms by December 26 and no action would be taken against those who would lay down their I arms by that date. After that date, the police would start to recover the illegal arms.
To make the Election Commission independent and strong, it was reorganisd by appointing three judges from the Supreme Court. Justice Mohammad Abdur Rouf was appointed Chief Election Commissioner and Justice Mesbahuddin Hossain and Justice Mayeenuddin Ahmed were appointed as Election Commissioners. By an ordinance -Election Officers (Special Rules) Ordinance 1990 all the persons engaged in the elections were placed under the control of the Election Commission from the date of their appointment to the date they would be released by it. Once appointed for the election work, they could not refuse to take the responsibility or express their inability. Any one who would intentionally fail to perform the election duty or would express inability or violate the election rules would be charged with misconduct, or his election rules would be charged with misconduct, or his service could be terminated.
7.02 The Second Caretaker Governemnt in 1996
Unlike the first caretaker government which was appointed on the basis of the consensus of the major political parties, the second caretaker government was appointed according to constitutional provision made by the Thirteenth Amendment. As soon as this amendment was passed, Khakeda Zia resigned from the position of Prime Minister, and President Abdur Rahman Biswas appointed Justice Habibur Rahman as the head of the caretaker government on March 30, 1996. A Council of 10 Advisers was also installed in office.
Soon after assuming the office, Justice, Justice Habibur Rahman addressed the nation | over Radio and Television and said that the maintenance of law and order was the precondition for holding the election peacefully and smoothly. He observed that the two-years1 of unsettled political situation posed a threat to the law and order in the country. He asked for the cooperation from all the political parties and assured the nation that he would not use Special Powers Act so long as the work of the government was made possible and sounded a note of caution that he would use it if necessary.
The Chief Adviser gave directives to the officials to discharge their responsibilities with neutrality saying that the government officials have no scope to express solidarity with any quarters. He warned the officials that he would not hesitate to take any stern action against those who would indulge in or allow wrong doings intentionally, illogically, or inspired by ill motives.
In an address to the Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police, the Chief Adviser emphasized the need for freeing the society from terrorism with a view to holding a peaceful and impartial election.
The Election Commission Reorganized:
During the second caretaker government the Election Commission was reorganized and more power was given to it. Abu Hena who was a member of Planning Commission was appointed Chief Election Commissioner in place of Justice A.K.M. Sadeque who resigned because of demands made by some political parties, including the Jamaat-e-Islami to reorganize the Election Commission, Mohammad Fayezur Razzaq, Secretary to Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources was appointed as Secretary to the Election Commission Secretariat. The Election Commission was given additional power for conducting the election fairly and neutrally. Previously, the Presiding Officer was granted the power to stop the poll at any stage when he would confront with any problem. This power was transferred to the Election Commission. The Commission was also given the power to review the acceptance or rejection of the ballot papers by an election official. Furthermore, the Commission was authorized to form the Election Enquiry Committee for each district comprising of one working judge, one Senior Assistant Judge, or, one Assistant Judge of the respective district to investigate the pre¬election irregularities either on a petition by an aggrieved person or on its own cognizance and submit its report to the election commission. The Violators of the electoral laws could be fined up to taka 5,000.
Starting from April 17, 1996, the caretaker government began to transfer officials to make them neutral and reduce their influence in the election. It transferred 54 Secretaries, 69 Additional Secretaries, 43 Joint Secretaries and 76 Deputy Secretaries, At the field level, it transferred one Divisional Commissioner, 5 Deputy Commissioners, 22 Additional Commissioners and 90 Upazila Nirbahi Officers.
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party raised objections to the mass transfer of government officials. It complained that some officials were transferred within six months of their posting and others within one year of posting. It, however, held the position that only those officials who involved themselves with a particular political party should be transferred. The BNP also complained that the caretaker government was tilted to a certain camp.
7.03 The third Caretaker Government in 2001:
The terms of the 7th parliament and of the prime minister expired on July 12, 2001. According to the constitutional provisions, the Chief Adviser to the caretaker government should be appointed within 15 days of the expiry of the terms of the parliament and of the prime minister. President Shahabuddin Ahmed invited Justice Latifur Rahman, the last retiring Chief Justice of the Supreme court, to assume the charge of the caretaker government and on his acceptance, was appointed the Chief Adviser. The BNP boycotted the oath-taking ceremony because, it alleged, the president had fixed the date and time of oath-taking ceremony according to the wishes of the Awami League Chief Sheikh Hasina. The BNP had demanded that the caretaker government would take office immediately after the expiry of the term of parliament which was on July 12. But the Chief Adviser was appointed on July 15 giving two more days of political power to the Awami League. The party had also suggested that the oath-taking ceremony should be held at 12:30 P.M. as was originally planned, but the president rescheduled it at 7:30 P.M. as Sheikh Hasina had informed the president that she would join the ceremony after her public meeting at National Parade Ground. The original invitation to attend the ceremony bore the time 12:30 P.M. but it was crossed out and the new time 7:30 was written in its place. This incident created a deep concern in the mind of the BNP leaders who were already at daggers drawn with the Awami League. The party leaders said that they were displeased with the president and not with the Chief Adviser and would extend all cooperation to him. The next day, a council of 10 Advisers was sworn in.
Eight Parliamentary Election in 2001:
The eighth parliamentary election held on 1 October 2001 was unique in the electoral history of Bangladesh. The elections were held at the end of the full five-year term of the government of the Bangladesh Awami League (AL). Although the AL celebrated the completion of its term, political tension and violence was also mounting, and continued unabated throughout the campaign period.
The caretaker government took over on 15 July 2001. Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Latifur Rahman headed the 11-member caretaker government. The main function of the caretaker government was to organize the elections within 90 days and ensure that the elections were free, fair and neutral. The caretaker government extensively exercised executive powers for conducting the elections.
The caretaker government reformed the electoral laws, reshuffled public officials, recovered illegal arms and made the Election Commission take certain necessary steps. However, the caretaker government’s efforts to recover arms and arrest the listed criminals were not very successful and violence, including killing, continued. From 15 July to 10 October at least 217 people were killed and 6686 were injured in 414 major election-related incidents across the country.
The pre-election violence and tension caused much apprehension about “free and fair” elections. However, as the elections approached the government engaged the military and almost all other security agencies to keep the law and order situation under control. Ultimately when the election took place as scheduled on 1 October 2001 everybody was taken a back at the peaceful atmosphere that prevailed. Some incidents, of violence occurred but they did not have any major impact on the elections. Compared to the pre¬election violence and tension. The law and order situation on the election-day was good and well under the control of the security personnel.
7.04 The Fourth Caretaker Government of 2006-08:
The President, lajuddin Ahmed, reconstituted the non-party caretaker government on Friday, January 12, 2007 by appointing Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed, a former central bank governor, as the new chief of the interim administration.
President lajuddin, who resigned on Thursday January 11, 2007 from the post of the chief adviser and promulgated a state of emergency throughout the country, administered the oath of office to Fakhruddin Ahmed at a ceremony at Bangabhaban, the presidential residence.
Fakhruddin Ahmed, a renowned economist and former governor of the central bank, was serving as managing director of the Bangladesh Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation, a public sector micro credit institution, before being made the chief adviser to the caretaker government. Khakeda Zia and the leaders of her Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance abstained from attending Ahmed’s swearing in ceremony. Sheikh Hasina and the leaders of her Awami League-led alliance, attended the function.
The situation was just the opposite on October 29 last year, when lajuddin took over as the Chief Adviser. Khleda attended the swearing in ceremony and Hasina boycotted it. Former advisers, foreign diplomats stationed in Dhaka, senior civil and military bureaucrats, and a section of eminent citizens were present at the ceremony.
The cabinet secretary, AH Imam Majumber, conducted the oath taking ceremony at 7:00 pm.
But the president in his address to the nation, through which he declared a state of emergency on January 11, 2007 suspending fundamental rights, mentioned that a number of tasks needed to be completed for holding a free, fair and credible election and that it would take time.
The Election Commission, meanwhile, formally announced postponement of the January 22 general elections. They will now go for massive reconstitution of the judicial body and electoral laws as well and before holding the election, the EC sources said. With the swearing in the chief adviser, the authorities apparently relaxed emergency provisions, including restrictions on the print and electronic media.Private television channels were reportedly asked by the press Information Department on Thursday not to air news programmers, and they followed the instruction accordingly. The channels resumed news programmers on Friday, January 12.
The authorities also lifted the night-time curfew imposed for six hours everyday in Dhaka and other district towns for an indefinite period.
The police were seen announcing the lifting of curfew by loud hailers at different places in the city. The withdrawal of curfew eased tensions in the capital and other parts of the country.
The police and the elite Rapid Action Battalion launched a hunt for listed criminals, some businessmen and a section of politicians having criminal links.
In an announcement, the Awami League general secretary, Abdul Jalil, said that the AL-led alliance had called off all street protests. The alliance had earlier announced a series of agitation programmes, including transport blockades and general strikes to resist holding of the January 22 elections.Jalil refused to comment on the ‘promulgation of emergency’, but found the president quitting the office of the chief adviser a ‘people’s victory.
The BNP in a statement said that it believed the emergency was a temporary measure. The statement said the party hoped the interim government would do everything possible to hand over power to an elected government in the shortest possible time.
The left leaning political parties opposed emergency while major political parties refrained from making direct comments.
In another addition to the advisory council, Chief Adviser Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed on January 21 appointed business leader Mahbub Jamil and former Secretary Manik Lal Samaddar as Special Assistants to the Chief Adviser of the caretaker government.
Mahbub Jamil, former president of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) and Foreign Investors Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), will enjoy the status of a Minister while Manik Lal Samaddar the status of State Minister.
The appointments would come into immediate effect, said a government notification on 5 January.
Mahbub Jamil has been given charges of Civil Aviation and Tourism, Industries, and Youth and Sports Ministries while Samaddar got Fisheries and Livestock, and Science and Information Communication Technology portfolios.
Earlier, on January 10, the government had appointed three Special Assistants to the Chief Adviser.
Bangladesh: Caretaker Government Targets Dynastic Politics
Endless political hostility between the two main political alliances has been seen by many as the root cause of several ills plaguing Bangladesh. The caretaker government in this country, after targeting corruption, corrupt politicians and Islamist militants, now appears to be acting against the dynastic rulers of Bangladesh who have alternated in power. With this objective extortion and murder charges have been leveled against Shaikh Hasina. Khaleda Zia and her two sons are already in trouble with various corruption charges. The predicament of these political giants seems to be a matter of joy for the people of Bangladesh who have suffered at the hands of these politicians. At the same time, these actions are creating a political vacuum in the country. It is feared that this vacuum might be occupied by forces which may not be democratic.
Bangladeshis went into jubilation when the heir apparent of the BNP, Tariq Rahman was arrested. Rahman during the tenure of the BNP led alliance was seen as the most important extra-constitutional power centre in Bangladesh without whose support no major decision was taken in the country. He was considered as the most corrupt person in the country. Tariq was widely expected to succeed Khaleda Zia in near future. People in Bangladesh were pleasantly surprised when law caught up with Tariq Rahman and he was put behind bars.
Six months after a state of emergency was imposed in Bangladesh by the military-backed caretaker government, the people have started to speak of their concerns. These included the spiraling price of commodities, the fight against corruption and plans to prepare a new voter list.
Immediate provocation for the arrest of Tariq Rahman on March 8 was an extortion case filed by a fellow BNP member who also happened to be a leading businessman. Tarique was charged with extortion of Taka one crore from a construction firm, Al-amin Construction. Earlier the army-led joint forces had recovered a good amount of relief materials including quilts and pipes from the prime minister’s relief fund from the residence of Tarique Rahman. Governments relief material was also seized from the jjr houses and business establishments of many former BNP and Jamaat lawmakers.
During interrogation Tarique Rahman admitted to having bank accounts in five countries Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, South Africa and Switzerland. He also disclosed names of some top ‘Hawa Bhaban men’ who used to control major businesses and look after his bank accounts. Tariq also revealed about his investments in several foreign countries including South Africa and Malaysia.
Action against Tariq Rahman and many other politicians belonging to both the BNP and Awami League was appreciated by the people of Bangladesh. They thought that this will give a serious blow to corruption and might free the politics from it. The action against Islamist militants was similarly appreciated.
The country, however was surprised when a similar extortion charge was leveled on April 9, 2007 against the former prime minister Shaikh Hasina who is also the leader of Awami League led political alliance in Bangladesh. The case was filed with Tejgaon police station under the non-bailable sections of the penal code by Tajul Islam Farook, chairman of Westmont Power Company. In this case Tajul brought allegations against Hasina of extortion of 30 million taka (USD 434,000) and abuse of power in 1998, when she was the prime minister.
This charge was soon followed by a separate charge of murder. Hasina was charged for killing six persons in a political clash on October 28, 2006, the day when Prime Minster Khaleda Zia relinquished power in favour of a caretaker government. Fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami, the main partner of Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led four party alliance, had filed the case in which Awami League general Secretary Abdul Jalil was also accused of involvement in the incident.
Along with Hasina, 45 leaders and workers of her party and the other 14-party have been charged. They include Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil, former home minister Mohammad Nasim, General Secretary of Awami League Dhaka city unit Mofazzel Hossain Chowdhury Maya, Awami League Law Secretary Advocate Sahara Khatun, former lawmakers HBM Iqbal and Haji Selim, Jubo League President Jahangir Kabir Nanok, Chhattra League General Secretary Mofazzal Haider Chowdhury Roton, Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon, and JSD President Hasanul Haque Inu. Jammat Chief Matiur Rahman Nizami has also been charged in the same case along with nine other leaders of his party.
The charges brought against Hasina and her colleagues are for unlawful assembly, inflicting injuries ranging from minor to grievous on people, murder, attempt to murder and for aiding and abetting criminal activities.
Sheikh Hasina wanted to return to the country to face those charges but was persuaded to postpone it. According to Awami League General Secretary this decision was taken after a responsible person in the government assured her that the government will take necessary measures not to tarnish her honor and image.
In the corruption ridden politics of Bangladesh, charges of this kind are not surprising. What surprised most Bangladesh was the timing of these charges. Few days before, Shaikh Hasina in a media interview had criticized the caretaker government for delaying elections in Bangladesh. She was especially critical of 18 month time-table which the EC had announced for updating the voter list. The chief election commissioner on April 5 said no elections would be held before at least 18 months, as that time is required to simultaneously prepare the voter list with photographs and national ID cards. These 18 months would end in October 2008.
Charges were leveled on Sheikh Hasina immediately after this interview. Both these charges are pretty weak. The charge of extortion is pretty old. This charge was not leveled during the five year period of Khaleda Zia regime which was known for its hostility towards Awami League. In fact, the-BNP led four party alliances would have been more than happy to pursue these charges if they were brought during its tenure.
The great delay in bringing this charge by the complainant raises questions about its veracity.
Even in the murder case, violence had taken place five months ago but the charge sheet was brought after she objected to delay in holding of elections. In the case filed by Jamaat, complainant ATM Sirajul Islam, amir of the. Paltan unit of the Islamist party, mentioned that on directives from Awami League General Secretary Abdul Jalil, Workers party President Rashed Khan Menon, and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal President Hsanul Haque Inu the other accused killed five Jamaat activists and injured several others.
In the first information report (FIR) however the complainant had not named Hasina as an accused but the charge sheet had the Awami League Chief as an accused. The charge sheet said that at the very end of BNP-Jamaat-led alliance government’s rule, Hasina called her party activists to march to Dhaka with oars and sticks too take control of the streets of the capital. Following her call, her party activists gathered in the city sparking the violence of October 28.
A country like Bangladesh is not unfamiliar to this kind of political violence. Awami League alleges that 10,000 of its cadres have been killed during the regime of Khaleda Zia government. This tally included several top leaders of Awami League like Ivy Rahhman and S.A.M.S Kibria, Hasina, herself was attacked in a political rally in Dhaka. The incident had left many people dead. Hardly any action has been taken against the perpetrators of this violence. The play of the interim government appears that even if Shaikh Hasina is freed from the charges later, for the time being it will keep her occupied with it. These charges were also leveled against Hasina to keep her outside the country. Reports have now also indicated that Hasina, who is now on a private visit to the USA, finally may not be allowed to return home.
Even the Law and Information Adviser Barrister Mainul Hosein finds the extortion case against Awami League President Sheikh Hasina ‘peculiar’. He has said that the caretaker government would examine the case and take action only if the allegations are proved to be true. He added that due to this oddity, the national task force will examine the allegation.
The law adviser however, observed that there were no prime ministers in Bangladesh in the past against whom charges of corruption were not made. Without naming anyone and referring indirectly to the chiefs of the two top political parties of the country, Mainul said that if they are convicted in corruption cases, they would be disqualified from running in the polls as per the electoral laws.
Along with these charges on Hasina, the caretaker government also tightened noose on Khaleda Zia. Her movement inside the country was completely restricted. She is virtually now under house arrest.
To increase pressure on Khaleda to leave the country her younger son Arafat Rahman has been detained. Reports have also indicated that Arafat Rahman was not shown arrested officially because a process was on to persuade Khaleda to leave the country. She was determined not to leave the country, but finally agreed when her family members including her younger brother Major (retd) Syeed Iskandar persuaded her to agree to leave.
Khaleda, however, bargained for Trique Rahman’s release and asked the authorities concerned to allow him to go with her, but the authorities told her that he might be sent to Saudi Arabia very soon for ‘treatment’.
Khaleda will now leave the country along with her younger son. Her elder son Trique Rahman will join them later on. She will leave Bangladesh for Saudi Arabia where her permanent residence will be finalized.
The BNP is also facing the worst ever crisis in its history as a chasm has been formed within the party dividing its leaders regarding Khaleda Zia’s usefulness as the chief. A section of leaders now feel that the BNP would be better off without Khaleda, who lost popularity inside the party in the last five years. The rebel leaders feel that she would get little support from the party once she is made to leave the country. Some leaders also believe that their move against party chief Khaleda Zia and her family members will help them to avoid the axe of the interim movement.
Meanwhile, Chief Adviser (CA) Fakhruddin Ahmed on April 12 said the ninth parliamentary elections would be held before the end of 2008 as the present caretaker government is committed to handing over power to an elected government. Before that however, the caretaker government would like to implement electoral reforms and create an atmosphere conducive to holding free, fair and acceptable elections. He said the ongoing electoral reforms would ensure intra-party democracy and the government would take strong steps to encourage honest and competent candidates to take part in elections.
The law adviser of the caretaker government has also observed that the politics of the country has turned into ‘dynastic polities’ as practice of democracy is absent within the political parties. He also advised the politicians to think about what has been going on in the name of politics, adding that it could not be allowed to continue. He said, “if we want to see an end to confrontational politics as well as corruption, killings, plundering, grabbing of lands and properties, then the present leadership of the parties will have to be changed.” He added that it was national demand to exclude those who had contributed to the criminalisation of politics in the past.
The charging of many leading political figures, mostly from the 14-party alliance and some from the Jamaat-e-Islami, with murder has suddenly changed the political landscape in Bangladesh. There is also an extortion case against the Awami League chief. With this move the caretaker government in Bangladesh has lost support of both the political alliances for the ongoing political reforms in the country. Perhaps being aware of the ramifications, in influential adviser negotiated a temporary settlement with the Awami League and thus averted a further worsening of the political situation. The filing of a murder and extortion case against the Awami League chief soon after she voiced her criticism of the caretaker government in distant America gives the impression that the law is being used to neutralize high profile political leaders rather than serve the interests of justice. The political use of law has always been a cause of concern. It is possible that the present steps are taken by the caretaker government to free the country from both leading political leaders who have engaged in endless political hostility. At the same time, it is equally possible that the military is deliberately trying to create a void so that it can conveniently step in as has been done by Mussarraf in Pakistan. Things however, might prove little different in Bangladesh. Both Khaleda and Hasina though discredited have strong following in the country. The gravity of charges against Khaleda and her son may keep her down for the time being. But it will be difficult to restrain Shaikh Hasina, who now appears to be itching to start another political movement. The people of Bangladesh who are temporarily happy with the caretaker government may not like to give up their democratic rights which they have won with great difficulty first in 1971 and then in 1990. This process may also give a chance to the tainted political leaders look lot better.