Interview: Mokabbir Khan

'No environment for free and fair elections'

Mokabbir Khan
Prothom Alo

Mokabbir Khan is the Gono Forum member of parliament elected from the Sylhet-2 (Biswanath-Osmaninagar) constituency. He is one of the members of the present 11th national parliament who has played an active role in drawing up laws and other matters. In an interview with Prothom Alo's senior correspondent Riadul Karim, he speaks of the country's political situation ahead of the 12th national parliament election.

Q :

The European Union will not be sending a full-fledged election observation mission to the forthcoming election. Their spokesperson has said that they do not see the possibility of elections being held in keeping with international standards. How do you view this decision of the European Union?

I feel that this decision of the European Union has gone in favour of the present state of mind as well as aspirations of the people of Bangladesh. In the true sense, there is really no situation or environment for a free, fair and credible election to be held here at present.

Q :

What is the main problem?

This is a long-standing problem. The biggest problem is that over here, politics means sitting on the seat of power or driving out those in power, and grabbing the seat of power. This seat of power is the biggest problem. Those who had been in this position before couldn't set any precedence either. They didn't do anything in the interests of the people or in the interests of democracy either. There is no precedence of any initiative being taken to create a democratic environment.

Q :

So what's the alternative?

The alternative is a mass uprising. The people must be awoken. It must be explained to them that what we understand as democracy is entirely absent in the country.

Q :

The US has imposed a new visa policy for Bangladesh. They say that anyone who is responsible for impeding the democratic election process in Bangladesh will not be given a visa for the US. How do you view this visa policy?

Just a few days ago we saw that both BNP and Awami League were welcoming this visa policy. When both sides have been welcoming the policy, then we are bound to say that the decision has been in favour of the people of Bangladesh. Those in power now and those who had been in power in the  past -- both sides welcomed this policy. That means the visa policy has been in their favour.

Q :

There are a few months left for the election. The government says the election will be held in keeping with the constitution. BNP says the election must be held under a non-partisan government. What is your stand?

This has been a long-standing aspiration of the people. In the nineties there was a wave of public aspiration for democracy. Later, seeing the activities of the persons whom we had elected, the people grew the feeling that free, fair and neutral elections would not be possible under a party government. Those in power at the time were forced to pass a bill in parliament for a caretaker government system. Everyone had reached a consensus about the caretaker government issue.

Had a contagion not set in, there would have been no scope for debate over the caretaker government. In 2004 there was a drama over the chief justice, over who would be the head of the caretaker government. Also at the time, 12 million false voters were registered. That was enough to damage democracy and constitutional rights. They could not create any good example for people to believe that the party really believed in democracy and respect the wishes and aspirations of the people. There is no such example of this in the recent past. Actually, we never had real democracy in independent Bangladesh, the democracy as enunciated in our constitution.

Q :

So what is your party thinking about concerning the forthcoming election?

The precondition is about whether the election will be free, fair and neutral. Unless it is free, fair and neutral, it will not reflect public opinion. It can be passed off as an election, but it will not be a reflection of the country's constitution and the people's aspirations in the true sense. People are to vote in accordance their likes. Whoever clinches the majority votes, will form the government. That government will run the state on behalf of the people. That no longer exists. That is why we talk about a free, fair and neutral election.

Q :

Will you all take part in an election under a partisan government?

I do not want to say anything in advance. We will not consider the matter until and unless we see that the people have the confidence and belief that the election will truly reflect their views.

Q :

In the last national election, you took part in the polls as part of the Jatiya Oikya Front along with BNP. BNP members of parliament later resigned, but you two from Gono Forum did not. Why?

The first thing is, Oikya Front didn't nominate me. I contested in the election with the nomination and the symbol of Gono Forum. I see it like this -- we must be respectful towards the people. As a member of parliament, I believe with my heart and soul that we are accountable to the people. People are the source  of power. If the people withdraw their support, a big party becomes small too. Pakistan was founded under the leadership of Muslim League. Because of their errors, the people withdrew their support from the party. Now you can't find a trace of the party.

Earlier too, journalists had asked me if I would resign. I said that I had to consult with the party that nominated me. Most importantly, I will take the advice of those who elected me and sent me to the national parliament. Firstly, I must see the national perspective. What impact would my resignation have on a national level? Secondly, it is my moral duty to discuss the matter with the party that nominated me. Thirdly, I must take the opinion of the people in my constituency who voted for me. I attach much importance to these three areas. I will take a decision based on these three factors.

Q :

How do you view BNP's decision to resign from parliament?

After the BNP members of parliament resigned, I told them that resigning is your right. But instead of resigning all of a sudden in such a manner, you should have gone to your constituencies first, taken the opinion of the people who elected you. Then only should you have resigned.

The six of them resigned. Did that bring the parliament to a halt? Was the parliament dissolved? Did they manage to create any sort of impact by resigning from the parliament? Had they been in parliament now, they could have spoken out in the interests of the people, of democracy. They had been speaking well. They could have resigned three months before the election. The context would have been different then. The role of the BNP members was much more vibrant that the so-called opposition in parliament now. The BNP members had been speaking well in the parliament in the interests of the people.

Q :

You are among the active members in parliament now. How effective is the parliament? How effective are the things you say, the amendment resolutions you put forward?

I like to say I have been elected by halal vote, the vote of the people. That is why I am accountable to the people. As an elected member of parliament, I speak for the people. I try to carry out my responsibility. One member of parliament cannot stand up against 299 others and prevent a law from being passed or change a law, but can at least it creates an idea among the people, their hopes and aspirations can be spoken in parliament.  I believe at least I am doing a symbolic task. The people must believe that their representative will speak about public interests in parliament. If most people's representatives actually belong to the people, then laws in the interests of the people will be enacted.

Q :

Overall, how effective has the 11th national parliament been, would you say?

When there are 299 members on one side, how successful or unsuccessful will that parliament be, you tell me.

Q :

Your party has another member in parliament.

It's best if you question him about that.

Q :

Earlier it was seen that the cabinet was downsized during the election. There had been representation of others in the parliament besides Awami League. Ministers were appointed  from other parties. If such an initiative is taken this time and you are offered a place in the cabinet, what will you decide?

I will ask you, will my joining such a cabinet create any scope to resolve the prevailing crisis? My stand is, it is important to think and take initiative about a resolution to the crisis more than an election time government. A free, fair and neutral election system must be established where people's right to vote and constitutional rights will be restored.

Q :

Which is more important for a free and fair election -- an election time government or the election commission?

Both are important. One is linked to the other. The election commission cannot conduct an election without the support of the government. And how can a good election take place unless the election commission is neutral?

Q :

So do you think a fair election is not possible under a party government?

To me, that is the major problem. Effective measures must be taken to ensure everyone's participation on the basis of dialogue and discussion with all concerned so that people's ease is restored. The people must feel and believe that they will actually be able to elect their candidate. This initiative must be taken. There is no alternative to this.

Q :

That you for your time.


Thank you too

* This interview appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir