Friday, October 19, 2007

Questions to General Moeen

Bangladesh Army Chief, General Moeen Ahmed, is now visiting the USA. His visit to the USA has been closely observed by the Bangladeshi expatriates. There are so many unanswered questions that are floating now about the political developments of Bangladesh that need to be answered. There are some valid and rational questions and points getting enough attention from the political observers. They are as follows:

  1. .General Ahmed has repeatedly stressed that all the approximately 250,000 people arrested so far and the unknown number still detained are all corrupt. There have only been 20 or so trials to date. How has General Ahmed determined that these people are guilty? These people are being presumed guilty and the onus is on them is to prove their innocence in order to obtain their freedom. This is an egregious violation of human rights and due process.
  2. General Ahmed has announced at a press conference in London that he intends to expand the size of the present cabinet. The current regime has run for 9 months now. Therefore, if elections are to be held as soon as possible, there is no reason to expand the size. Our constitution also has absolutely no provision for any alteration of the size or form of an interim government. His intention to expand the government is an indication that rather than hold elections as soon as possible, he intends for this regime to stay longer.
  3. He has further floated the idea of forming a National Security Council which will have veto power over Parliament. This is completely undemocratic and follows the same path that General Musharraf took in Pakistan. It is simply another vehicle for him to hold on to power and will have the same consequences it did in Pakistan.
  4. General Ahmed has proposed changing the structure of our government to alter the power balance. This can only be altered by a two thirds majority of an elected Parliament. There are absolutely no other provisions in our constitution for such changes. Past constitutional changes made by dictators include the removal of the separation of church and state by General Ziaur Rahman and the bar on floor crossings by Members of Parliament by General Ershad. Much of the present difficulties in governing Bangladesh are a direct result of these unconstitutional changes. Unfortunately, it also takes a two thirds majority to reverse them.
  5. The military regime has announced that it will hold municipal elections between January and March. Yet the state of emergency is still being maintained. It takes several months to gear up an effective election campaign, which is completely prevented by the state of emergency and the climate of fear it projects. Any elections held under such circumstances will be meaningless.
  6. The voters list and electoral laws used in the municipal elections are the same as the ones for national elections. Therefore, if municipal elections can be held by March, there is absolutely no reason why national elections cannot be conducted in this timeframe as well. The only reason to hold municipal elections earlier is that they receive far less monitoring and are, therefore, easier to manipulate. Once municipal posts are controlled, then it becomes easier to manipulate the national elections far ahead of Election Day. This is a tactic that has been employed by all past military regimes.
  7. General Ahmed has publicly stated in a speech that “Bangladesh will have to construct its own brand of democracy… with religion being one of several components of its national identity.” This further explains the near total immunity the Islamic parties, particularly Jamaat-e-Islami, have enjoyed in spite of evidence of terrorism and corruption against them.
  8. Some of the most corrupt politicians from both the major parties remain immune from prosecution and in fact are being actively supported by this regime in trying to break up the two major parties and form new ones. Without the two major parties, the fundamentalist parties will inevitably be the most powerful voice in any new coalition.

Bangladesh deserves democracy. Prolonging a non elected interim government will open doors for autocracy and abuse. People should immediately raise the following demands to the Army Chief:

    1. Free detainees who have not been found guilty yet and are clearly not a flight risk. Remaining trials should be conducted in open courts under Bangladeshi penal code and not by closed special tribunals under the Emergency Powers Rule, which are abusive.
    2. Lift the state of emergency immediately.
    3. Engage the major political parties in any discussions on reforms. Reforms pushed through without their “buy in” will be meaningless and only result in future conflict.
    4. Conduct national elections as soon as possible. If municipal elections are possible, then so are national elections in their stead.

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