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One Eleven: The time of Black hole for Democracy in Bangladesh

The Daily Dawn

One of the turning points in the political history of Bangladesh, in This day in 2007 will be remembered for a long time as 1/11,

The day in 2007 saw the nation being thrown to a two-year spell of the state of emergency. Apparently, to put an end to a spate of violence after the regime of BNP in 2006, then President Iajuddin Ahmed issued the state of emergency. Simultaneously, the President also resigned from his role as the Chief Advisor of the caretaker government, and the 2007 general elections were dismissed.

Under the BNP-Jamaat alliance rule, Bangladesh has been transformed into an inauspicious outpost of Islamic militancy and terrorism. Minorities had to face violent attacks and to bear agonies of the power-game of military regimes and pre and post electoral victory under autocratic religious- democratic regime. The status of the Hindu community, after the general election in 2001, has also been focused in the report of the US State Department entitled Supporting Human Rights and Democracy: The US Record 2005- 2006 which stated: "Because minorities, especially Hindus, were subjected to intimidation and other forms of pressure during previous election campaigns, the United States has increased its monitoring of this issue in anticipation of the 2007 election”
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I can confidently say that the 1991 and 2001 elections results could have been different given the razor-thin margins by which many seats were won, and the huge number of minority voters that were prevented from voting in those very seats. Out of 300 constituencies, there are 71 where minority voters are significant (ranging from 11% to 61%) and 50 where they are visible (5-10%). Minorities demand their propos ional seats in Parliament.

Bangladesh lost her secular image after amendments to the Constitution in 1977 and 1988. Bangladesh was -a secular democratic state, a state, which makes no difference between a citizen, and a citizen, which deals fairly with all irrespective of caste, creed or community in the Constitution of Bangladesh-1972. But the elections in Bangladesh since 1979 have become a tussle between army-owned political parties versus people’s political organizations.

Kuldip Nayar, an eminent Indian columnist, has cautiously mentioned “ Both the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the two main political formations, are determined to get a majority in the house by hook or by crook to be in power. This means a lot in a country where power is an end by itself and where extra-constitutional authority like Begum Khaleda Zia's son Tareq Rahman, come to have his say. That is the reason why thousands of people came on the streets when they found that the electoral roll had 13 million bogus voters.

That also explains why there was a vociferous demand for the reconstitution of the Election Commission, which the BNP had appointed….The support of the Jamaat-e-Islami was always there. Being part of the Khaleda government, the party has exploited the position to the hilt to spread fanaticism. Liberal Bangladeshis have been pushed to the background. Extremists are ruling the roost. Yet secular forces are beginning to assert themselves. They are somewhat late and still lack coherence. But they at least know the stakes. If the anti-liberation forces manage to control the government, democracy will receive a severe blow and face a bleak future in Bangladesh. 

In September 2006, a survey report of National Democratic Institute (NDI) for International Affairs revealed,” A total of 1.22 crore names registered in the updated voter list are either excess or duplicates, Of this, 6 percent names are excess and 7 percent duplicate, while at least 2.5 percent eligible voters are missing in the list, according to the second NDI survey on the integrity of the voter list The Awami League led 14- political parties say the voter list contains some 14 million fake names and excludes many opposition supporters.

Bangladesh earned her nationhood-authority through the election in 1970 and achieved freedom through fire against Pakistani occupation army in Dec. 1971. Pakistan was cut to size because she has been lacking democracy. Bangladesh was won because for establishing democracy. It’s a rare evidence in the annuls of history that a country was born in the name of establishing people’s right Within a year she became ‘the people’s Republic’ with the principles of secular democratic state constituted by her elected representatives in December 1972.

A country is born by fire in the name of democracy and “All powers in the Republic belong to the people” has been staggering for rights. Bangladesh is "Birth by Fire" and "Bangladesh, the youngest nation in South Asia, tore itself apart from the then West Pakistan in 1971, under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The aftermath of the historic elections of 1970-71, proved the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Bangladesh found itself catapulted to sovereignty and independence, master of its own destiny, negotiating its problems directly with all countries. It was suddenly groping for a new identity, a new culture, new philosophy, a new motivation to forge new relations to find fresh solutions to old problems, both internal and external.

We want free and fair elections at any cost. Before 1/11, what was a fantastic arrangement of neutral, free and fair election in Bangladesh in 2006? The leaders of Bangladesh’s main opposition party have threatened to boycott general elections and to protest alleged plans to rig the vote. Bangladesh’s interim government has failed to act neutrally ahead of January elections 2007; the US ambassador said echoing criticism of a multi-party alliance that has demanded electoral reforms. “Unfortunately, the caretaker government has not always conducted itself neutrally, and the nation has suffered as a result,” US Ambassador Patricia A Butenis said. “We hope that is behind us now.”

Syed Badrul Ahsan of the Daily Star observed:"Begin with the truth that this government has had the solid support of the nation's military, which has been its mainstay. There is, too, the matter of the state of emergency, a detail that has extended the government's period in office to one that does not look about to end any time soon. Only an election, already promised, followed by a transfer of power to the representatives of the people, will cause that day to dawn. Speaking of elections, the caretaker government has gone a whole lot beyond its responsibility of organizing and supervising free and transparent elections to a new Parliament. It is in that extended area of activity that you must search for clues to how the government has performed.” (Daily Star,11Jan.08)

We should not forget those days of great uncertainties and that of the month of December in 2006, though December is the month of victory of nationhood; people earned that glory through struggle, sacrifices and War of Liberation in 1971.

Zafar Sobhan of the Daily Star rightly opined that ‘Make no mistake, when you now hear people talk about how 1/11 was a terrible thing for the country, and that what we need is "democratic continuity" -- you are listening to the voice of shills for Hawa Bhaban, which would have been the principal (perhaps only) beneficiary of the stolen elections. The January 22, 2007 elections would not have provided anything like democratic continuity for the simple reason that fraudulent elections have nothing to do with democracy. These same people would have argued, following the fraudulent elections, that the incoming government was constitutional and that we had a duty to accept its legitimacy. These are the same people who had little to say about either the deeply undemocratic actions of the last elected government, and even less to say about the fiasco of the Iajuddin-led caretaker government.”(Daily Star,11 Jan.08)

Chief Adviser Dr Fakhruddin in his latest address to the nation rightly said :’ After taking over responsibility the present government has been trying to create a level-playing field for holding an acceptable, free, proper and neutral election. I want to categorically say that we are firmly determined to hold parliamentary elections by December 2008 as per the roadmap given by the Election Commission and if possible before that time frame. There is no scope for hesitation in this regard.”

Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed recently said the government is carrying out measures including reforms -- a demand by all -- to create a level-playing field. The international community has support to the roadmap of Bangladesh's election and is helping to this end, he said. However, we have full confidence in his commitments and caretaker government is carrying out whatever necessary for holding free, fair and acceptable election following the roadmap of the Election Commission. .

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