Sunday, October 23, 2005














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Saturday Feature
Formula for sustainable political stability
Enayet Rasul

          The political crisis is deepening. With the two sides hunkered down for what appears to be a war of attrition, countrymen are duly alarmed and dismayed. In this war of attrition, there can be no losers and winners. Rather all will be losers -- fairly soon -- if this confrontation is allowed to blow up, fully, centering on the holding of the national elections in the coming new year. In that case, it will not even take months to sap the vitals of the economy. For an economy the size of Bangladesh with the serious vulnerabilities it is already facing from certain adverse external developments, it will not even take the span of some months but several weeks of unrelenting destruction in the form of hartals and associated troubles to push it over the cliff. But the outlook of analysts is that the opposition has already planned such a course of action to start soon after the Eid-ul-Fitr. The fuse would be lit soon after the religious festival. Only the Ramadan and the Eid appear to have created a temporary ceasefire.
Nobody can expect to win and still enjoy the spoils after carrying such a political confrontation to its bitter conclusion because whoever forms the next government will face the prospect of presiding over a badly battered economy. Such a prospect should have been enough to rationally lead to sober thinking in the political camps. Very unfortunately, this has not happened yet. But that should not mean that all in the country who possess the minimum sensibilities and have a stake in not destroying its economy should be innocent bystanders and let events and irresponsibility to overwhelm them. They should now be out with their opinion and initiatives and try the hardest or to the best of their abilities to have them honoured and upheld.
The urging has come from some quarters that business leaders on their own should now roll up their sleeves and engage in shuttle diplomacy to soften rigid positions on the two sides. For a long period, the response of business leaders to the unfolding political situation was feeble. Only very recently, they seemed to shake off their lackadaisical attitude and showed some energy in inviting top leaders of the two parties at a seminar and pleading with them to refrain from hartals and other acts that could impact so unfavourably on business activities. So far they have been reactive, but the circumstances dictate that they should be very proactive to safeguard the economy not only in the short run but more importantly in the long run . Now is the time for a business platform to put pressure on the ruling party and the opposition to commit themselves to a path that would spare the national economy.
Why cannot the business leaders articulate to the nation with immediate effect the grave perils facing the economy from the conduct of the politicians ? They have done so only sketchily in their statements and individual reactions. But the need of the hour is stepped up publicity to their views to build up the case for urgent political reforms. Now is the most appropriate time to sensitize people in all walks of life or to mobilise them in favour of political reforms to achieve long lasting political stability which is the country's paramount need. Not only the business leaders but all other civic forums should join in such an endeavour to try and change for good the way politics is conducted in this country. However, they ought to be guided by objectives with the aim of realising them one by one.
The first or goal would be concentrating all energies in resolving the immediate political stand-off. Both Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina have dropped hints in their recent addresses to the nation that they do not have absolutely fixed positions. Specially, the Prime Minister has commited herself to discuss all points of the opposition if the latter come to parliament including the acting on their proposals to reform the caretaker government. This is a refreshing departure from the previous hard line of her partymen that they had nothing to discuss with the opposition in respect of the caretaker government and that it would be instituted automatically and take its own course. Thus, the latest flexibility in the Prime Minister's speech has created an opportunity for a dialogue between the two sides. This should be seized by the promoters of the dialogue by piling pressure on the opposition to attend such a dialogue. If it succeeds, then the way will be cleared for the formation of the next caretaker government under a consensus both in respect of its form and functioning. Such a development will provide breathing time to all and, at least, dissipate the looming political storm. Both sides must be repeatedly approached and subjected to all forms of persuasion and pressure leading to the creation of a reasonably normal situation. Ending the stand-off must be the highest priority and to that end all efforts must be directed now.
Perhaps the business groups and civic forums can unitedly form a platform and play a mediating or go between role between the two sides. Presently, there is no such medium operating that has allowed the confrontation to harden. Hopefully, the stand-off can end as a result of unceasing and patient conciliatory activities on the part of the business and civic forums.
Once this stage is reached and after the caretaker government takes over, the same platform of business and civic groups must keep on functioning with the same strength and intensity and they should sit with the caretaker government and demand national consensuses in respect of certain guideline in politics to be observed by all henceforth. They must highlight these demands as the ones representing the entire civil society and press for their acceptance by all political parties before the country heads towards election. Without established consensus on these issues, there will be another election and another government but political stability will likely remain as distant a goal as ever.
The business and civic groups will have to urge the next caretaker government not to act out its term as an overseer of elections only. It must exercise a more innovative and visionary role by urging all and getting their agreement to abide by certain fundamentals of political behaviour in the future. The same should be as follows :
* All political parties must express their commitment formally to be represented always in parliament and contain their grievances within the floors of the parliament. The two major parties -- BNP and the Awami League -- had continuously boycotted parliament's sessions under one pretext or the other when they formed the opposition . There should be no more such pretexts. They should commit themselves unequivocally under the next caretaker government never to abstain from the parliament's session. They should give a guarantee about the parliament's effective functioning at all times with their representation in it and not to allow their differences inside the parliament to spill over in violent agitational form outside the parliament. In sum, they must be persuaded to take a vow for a new political beginning with parliament as the centre-stage of all their politics.
* The caretaker government will have to try its best to get the parties' agreement of no more engaging in hartals. The caretaker government during its tenure will have to spend its energies mainly in setting the stage for elections. But even while doing this, it should be calling regular meetings of the major political parties and trying its utmost to thrash out an agreement in which all political parties will agree to give up haral as political strategy or tactic.
* The caretaker government must set the stage for truly free and fair elections above any reproach. It must be careful to accommodate the correct proposals of all sides. Specially, the demands that the opposition are making about rectifying and revising the voters' list, steps to depoliticise and neutralise the civil administration, etc., must be responded to with the highest regard and attainments by the functionaries of the caretaker government. In return, the caretaker government will have to secure the agreement of all major parties well in advance of the elections that they would faithfully accept the results of the elections and would not come up with fresh allegations that elections have not been fair in the post election period.
Very specially, the caretaker government must ensure the participation of all major political parties in the elections. The caretaker government will have to work with very exceptional care and scrupulousness to make itself hundred per cent neutral and pro-country and not pro any political party or parties if it is to really pave the way for political stability.
The business and civic groups will do very well indeed if they keep their sights very clear and go on pressuring the caretaker government to work for the fulfillment of the above objectives. They must not be content with a short time stint like breaking the present political impasse only and helping the installation of a caretaker government. They will be expected to work with redoubled enthusiasm to bring pressure on the caretaker government to do whatever things are required to create conditions for lasting political stability after the elections.


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