Rakib Hasnet Suman
The country is ready to return to normal through today’s election after a lot of dramatic turns of events during the last two years’ rule under a state of emergency that resulted from confrontational politics.
The root of the crisis lies in the BNP-led four-party alliance government’s passing the 14th constitution amendment bill on May 16, 2004 to extend the retirement age of Supreme Court judges to 67 from 65. The then opposition rejected it outright, terming it a plot to set up a partisan caretaker government.
Because of the bill former chief justice KM Hasan was supposed to be the chief adviser to the caretaker government but the Awami League (AL) alleged that Justice Hasan had been the internal affairs secretary of BNP during Ziaur Rahman’s regime. The party also announced that they would not take part in the election under Hasan’s caretaker government.
Later, appointment of Justice Abdul Aziz as the chief election commissioner and Justice Mahfuzur Rahman and SM Zakaria as election commissioners deepened the crisis. Preparation of a voter list with at least 1.24 crore fake voters by the Election Commission (EC) also added to the crisis.
The then BNP secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and AL general secretary Abdul Jalil sat in dialogues but failed to bring any positive result.
Towards the end of the BNP-led government’s tenure, Justice Hasan declined to take charge as the chief adviser.
As both the major parties failed to choose a neutral person for the post, President Iajuddin Ahmed, who was chosen as the president by the BNP-led four-party alliance, assumed the office of the chief adviser on October 29, 2006.
However, Iajuddin failed to perform neutrally and his dubious role in running the administration prompted four advisers of his cabinet to step down in December that year.
Iajuddin appointed four new advisers but failed to create an atmosphere for holding the ninth parliamentary polls.
The AL-led grand alliance boycotted the election and announced to resist it. But the BNP-Jamaat-led electoral alliance desperately put pressure on the caretaker government and the EC to hold the election on January 22, 2007.
Finally, Iajuddin stepped down as chief adviser along with his ten advisers and declared the state of emergency on January 11. The next day he appointed Fakhruddin Ahmed the chief adviser and, on Fakhruddin’s advice, ten other advisers to the new caretaker government.
A few weeks later, the caretaker government launched an all-out drive against corruption and arrested many corruption suspects including political leaders which received huge public support. The special court has convicted many corrupt persons.
Meanwhile, a group of leaders of both the AL and BNP took initiatives to implement reforms within the parties but they did not get support from the grassroots level leaders.
Besides these, law enforcers arrested the two top leaders–AL President Sheikh Hasina and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia. Even there was an initiative to exclude the two from politics which ultimately failed. Hasina was even barred to return to the country from the UK. The government, however, later removed the restriction.
Khaleda expelled party secretary general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan just before her arrest on the morning of September 3, 2007.
Against this backdrop, the chief adviser reshuffled his cabinet on January 9 this year as new advisers took oath after the resignation of five advisers.
The government then decided to open dialogues with the political parties to minimise the gap with them.
Khaleda’s eldest son Tarique Rahman left the country for London a day after her release on September 11. Tarique had also been arrested on corruption charges and then released on bail. Before leaving the country in a statement he said he resigned from the party post and will not stay in politics.
Earlier, his brother Koko was also released on parole and left for Singapore for treatment.
On June 11, AL chief Sheikh Hasina was released following an executive order for treatment abroad.
After the release of both Hasina and Khaleda four advisers met them. The chief adviser also talked to them over phone.
Elections to four city corporations and nine municipalities were held on August 4 with a record voter turn out.
The EC negotiated with all parties and rescheduled the ninth parliamentary polls in December as per its electoral roadmap announced July 2007.
The commission primarily announced December 18 as the poll date but later, discussing with political parties a demand of the BNP-led alliance, shifted it to December 29.
The caretaker government withdrew the state of emergency on December 17 to ensure congenial atmosphere for a free and fair election.
Rakib Hasnet Suman