The country’s main opposition leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia landed in jail on Thursday after a makeshift court sentenced her to five years in jail in a graft case filed during the military-controlled regime in 2008.
The three-time former prime minister has been sent to jail barely ten months before the country’s next crucial general elections, casting deep uncertainty over the next polls being an inclusive one.
In the evolved circumstances, Prothom Alo talked to several noted citizens to get their views on where the country’s politics may head after the jail sentence of Khaleda. Their takes are following:
Uncertainty may arise
Serajul Islam Chowdhury, emeritus professor, DU
The imprisonment of BNP chairperson Begum Khaleda Zia, following the court verdict, may create uncertainty in holding a credible election. The election is ahead. It must be participatory and credible. An environment must be created to this end. Begum Zia’s case has not been conducive to creating such an environment.
Billions of taka is being looted in the country, but one hardly hears of any cases regarding such embezzlement. In terms of money, the charges against Begum Zia are nothing in comparison. Charges against a politician who had been at the helm of government are definitely serious, but there was no need to settle the case before the election. However, that was given priority and this has made a participatory and credible election uncertain.
When leaders are sent to jail, this invariably generates public sympathy. This may happen in the case of Begum Khaleda Zia too. At the same time, the people are worried about the ensuing political situation before the election. It would have been better if such apprehensions were not created before the election.
This will have an impact on election politics
ANM Muniruzzaman, security analyst
BNP chairperson being sent to jail following the court verdict in a corruption case will have a negative impact on election politics. The election year is vital where political continuity is concerned. All parties should proceed with caution during this time, so as to avoid political unrest, so that no circumstances arise that may hamper political continuity.
And election environment is essential for participatory, credible and fair elections. There was much to be done this year to that end. If this is not done, maybe the election won’t be participatory. This will have a far reaching impact on politics, which is unwarranted. This pre-election preparatory phase calls for much caution.
In consideration of a participatory, fair and credible election, the timing of the judgement against Begum Khaleda Zia has not been correct. This is the time for political parties to be preparing to participate in the coming national election. It was also the time to create an environment conducive to elections. If there is unrest in the political arena at this juncture, the entire election politics and process may be disrupted. This must be kept in mind.
Political conflict will grow
M Hafizuddin Khan, former caretaker government advisor
Begum Khaleda Zia’s incarceration in the corruption case will have a significant impact on the country’s politics. How will BNP go to the election? Even if Khaleda Zia wasn’t sent to jail, they haven’t been getting a chance to prepare for the election. Around four thousand leaders and activists of the party have been arrested and detained in the situation created over the court verdict and Khaleda Zia going to jail. The government isn’t allowing them to campaign. One the other hand, the prime minister has already begun campaigning for the election.
Given the circumstances, there hardly seems any hope of political understanding regarding the election. Political conflict will grow. This does not bode well for democracy. I see no glimmer of hope. The good election for which we aspire, is steadily receding into the distance. It looks like the next election is going to be one-sided too. This will effectively result in a one-party rule. To all appearances, the process is on to usher in such a one-party rule.
Khaleda Zia may be granted bail after appealing in court or may be relieved of the charges, but the stigma of corruption cannot be shrugged off. The propaganda against her will continue unabated. This will certainly be disconcerting and they will have a hard time in the election arena.
Fears for the future remain
Sultana Kamal, rights activist
Given the circumstances created by the verdict in the corruption case against Khaleda Zia, fears for the future remain. The trial proceedings and verdict in this case has created further distance in the political arena. Mistrust has deepened. The apprehensions created in the public mind will complicate the political scene further.
There is nothing abnormal about allegations, cases or trials. According to the constitution, everyone is equal in the eyes of the law. Anyone can be tried and punished in accordance to the law. But this should not be perceived by the public as motivated. However, that is how the Zia Orphanage case against Khaleda Zia is more or less being perceived.
The trial was so politicised that it seemed as if the case was not the state versus Khaleda Zia, but Awami League versus BNP. So much has been said, and is being said, by both sides about this case, that the public is confused as to whether Khaleda Zia has been jailed for committing any actual crime. Such confusion in the public mind is harmful. Devious quarters take advantage of such situations and people turn away from politics.
There is no political transparency in such circumstances. Mistrust and distance grows in political circles. All this has come about over Khaleda Zia’s trial. There may not have been serious clashes on the day of the verdict, but there is no guarantee that there will not be any in the future. Everyone, including the government, needs to be cautious in this regard.
Distrust and distance will grow further
Ali Imam Majumder, former cabinet secretary
As a result of the verdict in Khaleda Zia’s case, distrust and distance will further grow in the political arena. I have nothing to say about the court’s decision. It came through legal procedure. There will be further legal procedures, leading to a final settlement.
But the issue is the election. BNP is a major political party. They must join the election. They have to be able to carry out their political activities in order to prepare for the election. That remains a problem. The government has adopted an aggressive stance towards BNP’s leaders and activists. And centering on Khaleda Zia’s verdict, they have been arrested arbitrarily.
It is a problem in the country’s political domain that BNP is not getting a chance to carry out their political activities. The major political parties must certainly join the election if it is to be participatory, credible and fair. The parties must be able to carry out their programmes, meetings, rallies, processions and so on. They must be allowed to do so. They must not be forcefully obstructed from carrying out their activities. BNP should also avoid any aggressive activities that will give the government a chance for oppression and repression.
Instability may remain
M Sakhawat Hussain, former election commissioner
The circumstances emerging over Khaleda Zia being sent to jail following the court verdict, indicate that the existing political instability may remain in future too.
Khaleda Zia went to jail after fighting a case in which she was the accused. This can happen to any politician. The legalities of the case are not over. It will take time for the matter to be finalised. There remains uncertainty whether BNP will join the election or not, of how they will join the election, if the legal procedures are not completed before the polls.
Unless both the major political parties - Awami League and BNP - take part in the election or are unable to take part in the election, then democracy will not be established. Democracy cannot come into effect without a strong and effective opposition. If a single party dominates in all spheres, this is what modern political science terms as ‘hybrid democracy’. If BNP does not join the election, then things will continue as now with one-party dominance and a virtually non-existent opposition.
If this trend continues for long, the country will have democracy in name only. But until the legal procedures in Khaleda Zia’s case are completed, it cannot be said whether the next election will be participatory or not.