Monday, August 25, 2008

Is the train on the right track?

Is the train on the right track?
Husain Imam
Source: Daily Star
August 25, 2008

THE time is probably ripe to assess whether the caretaker government of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed has been, as promised, able to lift the derailed political train of Bangladesh from the abyss and put it on the right track. If you ask me, the answer is yes, the answer is no.

Yes, because it has, by preparing a fairly accurate voter list and holding four city corporation and nine pourashava elections successfully, set in motion the much needed electoral process.

No, because the people are still not sure whether the train is on the right track that will take it to its ultimate destination -- the parliament building at Manik Mia Avenue. Even if it is on the right track, one is not sure whether the train will be able to reach its destination without having the borjis (bandits) back on board. The reasons are simple:

One: Despite the fact that the chief adviser, the army chief and the chief election commissioner have time and again reassured the public that the national election will be held by the end of December 2008 at any cost (mori or bachi in the words of the CEC), with hardly four months in hand, people still do not have a clear view of the bogies of the electoral train for national election with their naked eyes.

Two: The government's determination to go ahead with the upazila polls in October this year, before national polls, against the will of the two major parties -- Awami League and BNP -- has not only raised a wall to obscure the electoral scenario of national election, it has also given rise to an air of uncertainty and scepticism about the election.

Three: The bandits, we say godfathers, who were put behind bars (more appropriately in quarantine camp) or kept on the run on charges of wanton corruption, violence, loot, extortion and abuse of state power, now seem to be flexing their muscles to stage a comeback with garlands around their necks and making V-sign with their fingers, thanks to the handling, or should we say mishandling, of the cases. Forgive me if I am wrong.

Let's take stock of the situation. The government, the Election Commission and the armed forces have done an excellent job in preparing a fairly accurate voter list with photos, and thus fulfilled one of their prime responsibilities as a caretaker government.

They have also, to their full credit, separated the judiciary from the executive, reconstituted the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), the Election Commission (EC), the University Grants Commission (UGC) and the Public Service Commission (PSC).

The rest are sad stories. The much talked about political reform hasn't met with any success. The attempt to change the top leadership of the two political parties who ruled the country over the last 15 years has backfired.

The possibility of emergence of a third political force to the liking of the caretaker government or the civil society has remained as bleak as it was before. Qualitative change in political culture remains a distant cry.

Administrative reform is not even on the agenda anymore. Electoral reform has not progressed as expected. Even the question of registration of the political parties is still uncertain.

To talk or think about a congenial atmosphere for a free, fair and credible election under emergency rules is bound to receive a mixed reaction from many a quarter at home and abroad. The idea of balancing Awami League with BNP in order to ensure a level playing field was ridiculous.

The anti-corruption drive, the only reason, other than preparation of a correct voter list with photos, that had given the present caretaker government the legitimacy by the people to run the country under emergency rules and extend their tenure well beyond their constitutionally mandated period of 90 days, seems to have run into trouble, if not disarray.

Setting up of a Truth and Accountability Commission (TAC) at the fag end of the tenure of the government to ease the burden on the judiciary in handling the innumerable graft cases filed by the ACC, and the response of the higher courts to the appeals against the verdicts of the lower courts are manifestations of the case in point.

The general people thought that the anti-corruption drive of the caretaker government would reduce corruption, lessen their harassment at the hands of the government agencies, lower the prices of essentials and utility services, and bring about some comfort in their daily life. That did not happen.

According to a TIB survey report, corruption has decreased in the upper level, thanks to the ACC and other agencies for their relentless effort and courageous steps, but it has increased in the middle and lower levels of administration, directly affecting the common people.

On top of it, the spiralling prices of food and other essential items, reaching far beyond the buying capacity of middle and lower income groups, shrinking of employment opportunities, and acute and persistent crisis of water, electricity and fertiliser have made both the farmers and the general public less and less interested in the reform measures of the caretaker government.

The people are no longer prepared to accept that all these problems are not the making of the incumbent government, nor are they willing to understand that most of these problems are the legacy of the most corrupt and anti-people governments of the past.

They are no more interested to know that the prices food, fuel and other essential items have gone to an all-time high in the international market in the recent months, nor are they willing to listen to the argument that the government had very little leverage in their hands to control the internal market price in an open market economy.

To be frank, despite the fact that the sad episodes of corruption, violence, repression and abject abuse of power of the past government still haunt their memories as nightmares, they have begun to believe that running the affairs of a country is not the task of an un-elected non-political government. They have begun to think that the earlier the caretaker government holds national election and hands over power to a truly representative elected government the better it will be.
Captain Husain Imam is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star.

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