Tuesday, September 11, 2007

'Minus Two' policy

Zia and Hasina in jail, Bangladesh works 'Minus Two' policy
By Mahendra Ved, IANS

Posted September 11th, 2007
Source: Muslim World News

New Delhi : Bangladesh may be moving towards disqualifying its two principal political leaders, jailed on corruption charges, from holding office and contesting future elections. The pattern earlier laid down in Pakistan, of which Bangladesh was a part for 24 years, is called "Minus Two".

It is a ploy to keep out former prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, just as Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were sought to be kept out of Pakistan by the Musharraf regime that cites numerous court cases. In fact, in a day of rapidly evolving developments in Pakistan, Sharif flew back from London to Islamabad after seven years in exile Monday but was deported to Jeddah after just four hours by Musharraf.

In Bangladesh, the Pakistan-like move is glaring in that most of the court cases against Bhutto were instituted during Sharif's two terms in government. The caretaker government in Bangladesh is reviving or pursuing cases the Zia government had filed against Hasina, while adding some of its own.

It has so far been more severe on Hasina. Besides a murder charge, she faces revival of a case pertaining to purchase of MiG-29 combat aircraft, although a parliamentary committee cleared her and she was bailed out six years ago.

However, no case has been instituted so far against Zia, whose government mothballed an expensive frigate purchased from South Korea, merely because of the kickback Hasina allegedly received. The ship was cleaned up, renamed, and put on the sea this year.

The present government's attempts to keep out Hasina who was abroad, and send out Zia to Saudi Arabia under a 'deal', failed in April. This set the stage for their prosecution at home.

Hasina has been in jail since July 16, while Zia was jailed eight days ago. This was foregone in a scenario where the political parties are clamouring for early elections and lifting of the ban on their activities imposed under a national emergency.

The impact of the "Minus-Two" tactic is apparent in the way the principal parties have faced dissensions. Hasina appointed old-timer Zillur Rahman as the acting Awami League (AL) chief and has managed to keep the party intact, so far. The squabbling leaders have closed ranks.

But Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has split. Her expulsion of party secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan in the courtroom, minutes before being sent to jail, has split the BNP into two factions.

It is advantage government that is seeking a dialogue with the parties, through the Election Commission. Both BNP factions have rushed to the poll body to seek recognition and be invited.

The government has said it is embarking on "political reforms" wherein "honest" people will participate in the elections, slated to take place only in end-2008.

Its attempts to encourage floating of new parties-amidst a ban on political activity - have proved a non-starter. Dubbed "crony-politics", it forced Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, who actually announced formation a party in March, to abandon his effort.

Working well beyond its 90-day constitutional mandate now, the caretaker government of Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed is still working the goals of governance, now that the two women leaders are in jail.

Law Advisor Mainul Hossain claimed it was "a national government" that was "army backed." But the Army Chief, Gen. Moin U. Ahmed, corrected him, saying that it was very much "a reforming caretaker government" that had the backing from the "army, just like the police or anyone else".

Vocal in his criticism of the politicians, the general has said he did not expect the government to be "politically popular", but claimed "overwhelming support of the silent majority".

The government's goals, clearly dependent upon the army's support, have become conditional to the implementation of an open-ended political programme that seeks to 'cleanse' the polity.

AL minus Hasina or BNP minus Zia - whatever their past performances and the truth behind the charges levelled against them - is a political misnomer in Bangladesh. There is little chance that the new leaders would cooperate and join in the elections.

Both parties have a record of boycotting elections. BNP did it in 1986 and Hasina in February 1996. Hasina's boycott call last December led to the polls being called off.

If "Minus-1" did not work then, any "Minus-2" election is bound to lack credibility.

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