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In Bangladesh, the first day of rights

Dhaka, Wed, 17 Dec 2008 Kazi Mohoshin Al Abbas

The people of Bangladesh have passed the first day of rights on December 17 after a long period of 23 months as military backed interim government has withdrawn the state of emergency totally. The very decision of the interim government was one of the important demands of major political parties and of course an expectation of the people of all walks of the society. The nation gets back its fundamental rights as an ordinance promulgated by the president of the republic.

The campaign for the 9th parliamentary poll gets extra momentum with this withdrawal, and the supporters of contesting parties and alliances become enthusiastic in organising rallies, wayside gathering and others programs. The pivotal leaders of two main alliances – one led by Sheikh Hasina, president of Bangladesh Awami League and other by Khaleda Zia, Chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party – are engaged in election campaign at rural regions. Hasina is visiting southern part of the country and Khaleda Zia is running through the northern part as their main constituencies of contest are remaining southern and northern part of the country respectively.

Withdrawal of emergency was the main news item for the press of Bangladesh as of due course. All newspapers published reports on the top while few of them commented through editorial. Influential English daily The Daily Star said in an editorial ‘Emergency goes the final impetus to election provided’. The daily commented again ‘The lifting of the state of emergency should finally end all speculations regarding the caretaker government's position vis-à-vis the elections and it has come just after the nation celebrated the Victory Day, so we can really feel an aura of auspiciousness in the coincidence.

The issue of spontaneity seems to be relevant to us, because none other than Begum Khaleda Zia, the BNP chief, is talking of the elections being engineered to bring a certain party to power. Such allegations or discordant note can hardly add to the congeniality of the electoral atmosphere. We would like to believe that conspiracy theories, often degenerating into scare-mongering, will be proved wrong, and the “shockers” will pass off as election gimmicks.

What the political parties cannot overlook at this point of time is that it is now their turn to show a high degree of responsibility and maturity by way of responding to the people's yearning for transfer of power to a democratically elected representative government. Now that the parties are firmly settled in the election groove, they should play their part in steering the nation to its cherished goal for attaining a truly democratic order.’

But another English language daily the New Age is a bit critical. This Daily has also published editorial titled ‘Emergency goes but questions remain’. New Age mentioned in the editorial that the constitutional provision of imposing Emergency should be talked and debated widely among the citizen and said, ‘FROM this day on, the fundamental rights of the people that were confiscated nearly two years back through the presidential proclamation of a state of emergency stand restored, at least at the legal level. It is welcome that, at long last, the president is ‘satisfied’, albeit under social and political pressure, that the situation now prevailing in the country does not warrant perpetuation of the state of emergency. Nearly two years back, the president was ‘satisfied’, reportedly with a bit of goading by some top-level officers of the army, that the situation then prevailing in the country warranted proclamation of a countrywide state of emergency. In other words, the president felt, or was made to feel, that ‘the security and economic life of Bangladesh, or any part thereof, is threatened by war or external aggression or internal disturbance.’

Questions were raised then, and remain now, whether the situation prior to January 11, 2007 demanded imposition of emergency, and that too across the country. The country was definitely not threatened by either a war or any external aggression. Also, the economic life of the people has never been stable and was not any more unstable then than it was during emergency. There were, however, ‘internal disturbance’, thanks to the clashes in the capital Dhaka out of crude power struggle between the opposing political camps. However, it was by and large a consequence of the injudicious behaviour of the president himself at a time of crisis. Had he not been so blatantly biased, the power struggle might not have degenerated into the orgy of destruction, of killing and getting killed that we witnessed towards the end of 2006 in the first place.

In the resultant state of emergency, which spanned over the next 23 months or so, attempts were made to distort the political process, the judiciary was abused, the economy was brought to its knees, and a host of arbitrary and anti-people political, social and economic decisions were taken. While the ‘internal disturbance’ prior to January 11, 2007 subsided within a few days of the proclamation of emergency, the president was either not ‘satisfied’ or not allowed to be satisfied so as to proclaim the withdrawal of emergency. In fact, he had chosen to be not satisfied until December 15 when he signed the proclamation for discontinuation of the state of emergency. Overall, the past 23 months or so have been a practical demonstration of how dangerous it could be to leave the proclamation of emergency – confiscation of the people’s fundamental rights, in other words – to an individual’s satisfaction or dissatisfaction.

The silver lining in the cloud is that a section of the elite and the so-called civil society have learned – the hard way, one must add – that the cure for democratic deficit is more democracy, and certainly not suspension of the democratic process. It is indeed heartening that those who had so boisterously solicited imposition of emergency, and endorsed it when it actually came, are now raising a chorus about its detriments.

It is time now to ponder over one crucial question: The state might need to declare emergency when the nation is exposed to disaster, man-made or natural, but should the people’s fundamental rights remain suspended during emergency? We believe people become most insecure, when their fundamental rights remain suspended, for suspension of such rights make them vulnerable to the arbitrary actions of the state, which by itself is a coercive apparatus in any political dispensation. Therefore, as we welcome the withdrawal of the state of emergency, we feel there needs to be a pervasive debate in society on whether a constitutional provision that allows the authorities to rob the people of their fundamental rights during emergency should be allowed to continue’.

Besides the comments appeared on the newspaper pages, the political analysts also raised their voice of disfavour to the constitutional provision of emergency. They said that it may be essential for the state to govern, but that also must be defined that how the fundamental rights of the citizen could be uphold. They said that upcoming parliament should take the issue in priority basis and must reach in a unanimous conclusion on the fate of the fundamental rights of citizen.

- The author is a Dhaka based senior journalist writes for various newspapers and web portals across the world -

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