BNP has no need to feel pressure over the caretaker issue

Professor Mahbub UllahProthom Alo

The US State Department has announced a new visa policy in context of the forthcoming national parliamentary election in Bangladesh. The policy states that anyone who impedes the election and democratic process in Bangladesh will face visa restrictions. In an interview with Prothom Alo, economist Dr Mahbub Ullah talks about the possible impact of this visa policy on Bangladesh's politics.

Q :

The US has announced a new visa policy for Bangladesh ahead of the national elections. What impact do you think this policy will have on the country's politics?

We shed much blood and made much sacrifice to establish Bangladesh. Our hopes and aspirations were that Bangladesh would be a truly democratic country. But unfortunately, down till today it has not been possible to ensure the primary criteria of democracy -- a fair election. The manner in which the last two elections in particular were carried out, these in no way can be called free elections. In this backdrop, the US has announced its new visa policy for the people of this country, to restore an environment conducive for elections in Bangladesh. My take here is that this is extremely shameful for us.

This country is over 50 years old. That is quite a considerable span of time, yet we still have not been able to set up a system for free elections. Outside elements have to speak up for this, the US in particular. They even have announced a separate visa policy. How far this policy is going against the ruling party and how far it is going against the opposition, it is a matter of consideration. On the whole, I do not think this pressure will usher in free and fair elections. It is not acceptable either that anything should happen in this country under pressure from outside forces. It would be the best if we could resolve our own problems.

Then again, it is not that such measures are ineffective. We feel that the measures taken by the US against RAB did have some effect. Extrajudicial killings do not take place as before. No matter what interests the US may have in Bangladesh due to geopolitical reasons, our main issue is the forthcoming election. We must move forward to ensure it is free and fair. The people of the country as well as the international community must be reassured by this.

Q :

BNP has welcomed this move of the US, saying that this visa policy is a reflection of the people's demands. At the same time, BNP remains adamant in its demand for a caretaker government. In this context, how far will the visa policy affect BNP?

BNP has no need to feel any pressure over the caretaker issue. This movement, after all, is for fair elections. The most important and effective system for a fair election in the country is a caretaker government. So it is very farfetched to think that the visa restrictions would apply if demands are made for a caretaker government. However, the opposition must also be cautious since the opposition has also been mentioned in the visa policy. There is no specific mention of Awami League or BNP in the policy. However, we can understand that this announcement was made centering Awami League and BNP.

Q :

Awami League has been in power for three consecutive terms. There was must controversy over the past two elections. Will this visa policy put more pressure on Awami League?

This will depend on how far those who are at various levels of leadership in Awami League, will be financially harmed by the US visa policy. Many of them have homes, assets, investments and businesses in the US. There are speculations that many have taken money over to the US. If they cannot go there then, it will be the same as not having those assets and wealth. From that angle, this is certainly a big pressure on them.

Q :

Awami League feels this has weakened BNP's demand for a caretaker government. What do you think?

It is too early to comment on this. Let some time pass, maybe a month, then things will be clearer. It will be immature to comment on this now.

Q :

We have noted that a fair election took place in Gazipur. BNP didn't join in that election. Will this election step up pressure on BNP leaders?

Many are saying that the Gazipur election has set a good precedence for free and fair elections. Actually, you can't really say that. The opposition did not participate in the election. An analysis is needed to see whether the general people cast their votes in favour of the winning candidate, or whether a section of Awami League voted for her, and also how many votes did she get from the BNP voters. And just with the example of one or two elections, it cannot be said with certainty that that the election will be free and fair under the party government.

Q :

Over the last few days it was seen that when BNP took to the streets, they were resisted by the ruling party and clashes ensued. So what strategy should BNP undertake? How are you viewing this aggressive attitude of the ruling party?

BNP's leadership can say what the best way is in which they can proceed. But the clashes that took place were certainly unwarranted. By setting such a precedence, the ruling party is not only harming BNP, but they are harming themselves too. The problem with our politics is that we readily find fault with others, but do not take our own faults into cognizance. BNP has been maintaining that they will hold a peaceful movement and have organised their programmes in a manner so that there is no conflict or no clashes. Their main aim is to garner public support for a caretaker government through their peaceful movement. So the incidents that are taking place now are very unfortunate. It seems that the forthcoming election will probably not be fair.

Q :

The national election is not very far. Given the circumstances, what is the way ahead?

It is not possible to answer this right now, but we have seen some ludicrous demands being made, like to extend the government's term by another two years at least, without any election. These are all prescriptions to cripple democracy. If they have trust in the people, faith in the people, there is no need for getting embroiled in these clashes and conflict. You can to go to the doorsteps of the people. There is no scope to use the back door, that is, rig the elections and obstruct people from voting, simply to go to power.­