Capt. Husain Imam
October 27, 2008. Dhaka.

According to adviser Hossain Zillur Rahman, the unofficial spokesman of the caretaker government, the much sought after national election, scheduled to be held on December 18, is now on the highway and it is determined to reach its target dead on time. Yet the uncertainty with the election that has all along overcast the political horizon ever since the present CTG took over the helm of affairs of the country some 21 months ago is not over.

Mr. Suranjit Sen Gupta, one of the top ranking leaders of Awami League, thinks that the election train might have got on to the highway, but the possibility of a highway crash can never be totally ruled out. So the people should still be extremely cautious about it. I tend to agree with himDespite the fact that there have been several dialogues (official as well as unofficial) between the government and the two major political parties, AL and BNP, and after the one held last Thursday both sides claimed to have narrowed down the differences significantly, three major demands, almost common to both the parties, as pre-conditions for participating in the election, still remain unresolved.

The demands are: One, the party chairperson/president has to be fully, permanently, and unconditionally freed and allowed to participate in the election. Two, the emergency has to be fully lifted. Three, the upazilla election date has to be rescheduled and held at least 15 days after the national election.If we understand what Dr. Zillur Rahman has been telling the public in the recent days, the CTG is prepared to relax emergency rules to an extent so that the political parties can carry out their election campaign and the voters can cast their votes freely and independently without any fear or intimidation from any quarters. But they are not prepared to lift the emergency rules fully.

The reason is not difficult to understand. They do not want those political leaders who have been held on charges of corruption and convicted in the trial courts under emergency rules to contest the next election. If the emergency is lifted, they will all be probably eligible for contesting the election.

The political parties might have to come to an understanding with the government at least on this issue if they really mean business. Because, one thing is for sure, people don’t want to see those who are perceived or known to have committed large-scale corruption, abusing state power in the recent past, entering politics or contest the next election.

And for the caretaker government, it is probably high time they gave up any hope, if they still have, of implementing the “minus two” formula. When Dr. Zillur Rahman can confidently say that there is no bar whatsoever for the two ladies, Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, to lead their respective parties in the next election and get their party candidates elected in the parliament, but is unable to say in clear terms whether they will be able to contest in the election themselves, one has valid reason to be wary.

BNP secretary general Khondokar Delwar Hossain has clearly and repeatedly said that his party will not participate in the election without Khaleda Zia. The stand of Awami League on this particular issue is not different either. That there can be no election, let alone a credible election, in the country without these two ladies is a stark reality.

Even if the central leaders of both AL and BNP, under compulsion and in the interest of a smooth transfer of power to an elected government (for argument’s sake), decide to go to polls without Sheik Hasina and Begum Zia, there is every possibility that they will face stiff resistance from the grassroots level workers and leaders of their parties, making it almost impossible to go through the election process. The earlier the CTG realises it, the better it will be.

As for upazilla election, most of the political parties including AL and BNP think that the date fixed for upazilla election, with only five days gap from national election, is an impractical proposition, running the risk of creating a mess for both the elections, and have rightly asked for shifting the date of upazilla election by a fortnight or so. The Election Commission will be well advised to listen to the mainstream political parties and act accordingly.

One more thing the caretaker government needs to realise. With only 50 days or so left for the national election, there is no scope for them to undertake any more experiment or embark upon any further adventure with democracy. They have had enough of them over the last 22 months. A few of them might have proved productive. But most of them, I dare say, met with disappointing consequences.

The latest idea to get the two ladies sit across the table and talk, a brainchild of their common lawyer Barrister Rafique-ul Huq, died its natural death before it could even see the light of the day. And now when we hear from Dr. Zillur Rahman that they would like to continue holding dialogues with the political parties to bring about a qualitative change in politics, we welcome their initiative but when they say that they would like to get a commitment from the political parties as to how they are going to run the country after the election, one cannot but feel pity for them.

If the CTG is really serious about holding a free, fair, and credible election on December 18, they ought to resolve the three core issues — participation of Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia in the election, lifting of emergency, and rescheduling of upazilla polls — before even declaring the election schedule on November 2.

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Capt. Hussain Imam is a retired merchant navy officer and a contributor to New Age and Daily Sangbad

(দৈনিক সংবাদ).