Army-Backed Caretaker ruled out by Prime Minister Hasina – is it “Double Standards” or “Fear of Democracy”?

September 9, 2012

According to a government press release dated today’s date, which reads as follows;

“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina warned that the army-backed caretaker government like the previous one will not bring good for anyone. The Prime Minister said this while addressing a joint meeting at GonoBhaban yesterday. The meeting was organised to exchange views with the newly elected leaders of seven associated and like minded organisations, including Mohila League, Krishak League, Jubo League, Tanti League and Bangladesh Chhatra League. During the last caretaker government, the people of all strata were in great anxiety and fear. Defending the idea that a free, fair and neutral election can be held under a party government, she said a total of 5183 various elections were held under the incumbent government since it has taken power. “

 The above news (press release on it’s official website) raises many questions to those who have been closely observing the past 7 years of Bangladeshi politics. It also gives the critics of the government an open field to attack the government on it’s values, standards and credibility.

An observer will no doubt agree that it was the Army-backed government that brought this current regime, Awami League, into power. The election which was  originally scheduled for January 2007 by the BNP,  was postponed by a military-controlled caretaker government for an extended period of time. An election held by the army-backed government helped take power away from the BNP who were at that time very confident in resuming power. In fact, the election resulted in a landslide victory for the Awami League-led grand alliance,which bagged 263 seats out 300. All this success of Awami-League was achieved under the army-backed caretaker government. 

BNP have constantly criticised the army for bringing the Awami League into power with such a large landslide. However, the news report mentioned above, expresses the party’s fear of an army backed caretaker government, as well as a denial of it’s credibility. Question is, is it because if they (army) could do that for the awami League then they could probably do the same for the BNP, making Awami League loose the election in future?

Thus, in summary, the Prime Minister’s distrust in the army through her above comments questions the awami League’s forming a landslide victory in the last election, and put’s it in doubt. At least this is how it appears in the reader’s mind. An independent observer cannot see any other logic for doubting the army-caretaker government which clearly did justice to the Awami-League.

One can spend reams of paper analysing and criticising the above comments but that is not our purpose here.  Our purpose is to keep history unaltered and prevent politicians from manipulating history.

Businessman who were not politically biased had appreciated the two year period as a “honeymoon” period for Bangladesh, in relation to peace, no hartals, no demonstrations, no killings, an impartial judiciary, a proposal to separate the judiciary from politics, good supply of electricity throughout the day, acceptable food prices, army bull-dozers reclaiming the land and public property that was taken by force, and many other good things.Apart from politicians and members of political parties, no one, including no foreign power, could see any fault with the administration that was army-backed at that time. No foreign ambassador criticised that army-backed administration like they did in relation to MP’s and Ministers who worked for either BNP or Awami League.

It also forced the rich to justify their income. In a land owned by 160 million people only 750,000 (0.75 million) were registered taxpayers at that time. The Army-backed government had increased this and since then everything started changing quickly.

Parliamentarians, the rich and influential, were seen to use CNG driven taxis to Parliament for the first time. People who never voted were drawn into politics for the first time in the history of the country.

No political government was able to draw in voters like the army did. Clearly the objective must have been to give democracy a lift.

None of these goods deeds has ever been mentioned or were appreciated by politicians because the Army actually went on to identify the corruption amongst politicians and put many of them in prison. The politicians could never forgive them for challenging their deeds and activities good or bad whilst being politicians. For the army it was a cleansing process – cleansing corruption.

As soon as politics and democracy was appreciated by the army and power was handed back in the name of democracy, the result was the death of nearly 50 army officers killed, and many buried within minutes of being killed, or killed and thrown in the drains, by a cue by the Border Guards, the then Bangladesh Rifles.

Whilst there were many theories of the event, some of which are still on ‘you tube’, the fact of the matter remains that army officers were seen a threat by someone somewhere, may it be, for the sake of argument, the Bangladesh Rifles. This was only possible because the army had never saw this coming, maybe because they were not interested in taking power from politicians.

Had they been interested in taking power, their intelligence would have been much cautious and focused on defensive matters.

These incidents that show that powerful army officials who had been highly appreciated in their role in many countries through their appointment through UN and in their short-lived but successful role in Bangladesh after the so-called “1/11″, whereby they demonstrated how the country should be run, suddenly became victims of democracy in their own land by being slaughtered by a team they were commanding under a newly established democracy.

It was this lack of interest in their hunger for power that helped it (the army) to restore democracy in Bangladesh. In fact the army was more interested in it’s foreign role, and could not risk what was happening at that time in Pakistan. Nor did it have any support from USA, Europe or UK to do anything out of the ordinary.

Summary of the 9th Bangladeshi Jatiyo Sangshad election ( the last election)

The voter turnout of 80 percent (81 million eligible voters) was the highest in the history of Bangladeshi elections. Thanks to the army-backed government. This was the first time elections used national ID cards with photographs to avoid bogus voting, which was an EU-funded UK initiative of digital electoral roll.  Prior to the elections, 11 million false names could be removed from the voter lists.

After losing a majority of seats, Khaleda Zia’s party had alleged that election irregularities were to be blamed. They alleged that BNP party supporters were kept from voting and their polling agents and officials were barred from performing their duties.

Summary of the 9th Bangladeshi Jatiyo Sangshad election

Alliance Party Votes % Seats Change
Grand Alliance Bangladesh Awami League 33,887,451 49.0% 230 +168
Jatiya Party 4,867,377 7.0% 27 +16
Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal 429,773 0.6% 3 +2
Workers Party of Bangladesh 214,440 0.3% 2 +1
Liberal Democratic Party 161,372 0.2% 1 ±0
Four Party Alliance Bangladesh Nationalist Party 22,963,836 33.2% 30 –163
Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh 3,186,384 4.6% 2 –15
Bangladesh Jatiya Party-BJP 95,158 0.1% 1 –4
Islami Oikya Jote - - - -
Independents and others 3,366,858 4.9% 4 –2
Total 69,172,649 99.99% 300
Source: Electoral Commission of Bangladesh seat-wise tally Election commission homepage

It was clear that the party who had lost the election, namely the BNP at that time, was calling the election unfair. One can understand their claim, as they had suffered a landslide loss. However, the winner here was Awami-League, who was of the view that it was a fair election. About 50,000 soldiers of Bangladeshi Army and 600,000 police officers were deployed to guard against election fraud and violence. 200,000 electoral observers, including 2,500 from outside Bangladesh, monitored the elections and confirmed their free and fair nature. Before the elections, the army-backed caretaker government took measures to eliminate corruption from the process.

All of this was repeated by the Awami-League. The double standards we see here is that the party and it’s leader are now expressing doubts and fear of an army-backed government acting as a caretaker, one standard when it suited them, another when it does not suit them (fear).

Is this a shift of position arising out of fear of loosing an election because if the army were to act fairly then BNP could get a landslide , or is it simply having two standards one for thyself and one for the others? 

By Abdul Ahad

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