Full text of the interview:
Prothom Alo: Where is Bangladesh heading in the prevailing global crisis of democracy?
Emajuddin Ahamed: Our society is about 4,500 years old, though we are not even 50 years old as a republic. Regarding the election and the rule of law, the expectation of the common people is same as it was in the past.
Prothom Alo: What are the ways to protect the concept of opposition, criticism and difference of opinion?
Emajuddin Ahamed: The country could not continue with democracy after three years of independence. One-party rule was established. Nowadays, prime minister Sheikh Hasina asks what was wrong if there was Baksal.
Prothom Alo: How are we now?
Emajuddin Ahamed: We have probably reached at a stage where there will be only one party. The example of China may be cited. China did not ignore the people, it engaged them and achieved huge development. There is a type of democracy there. Mao Zedong said those who would bring about massive development will be taken forward. The leaders are elected at different tiers. This is called democratic centralism. They prepare the people fully. People are imbibed with self-respect, confidence and dignity. The president in China is elected through around 50 tiers. So it is irrelevant to compare the system of China with Baksal.
Prothom Alo: What created this situation which goes against democracy?
Emajuddin Ahamed: There are a couple of reasons. The beauty of democracy is that the state will be separate from the government. The party will be separate from the state and the government. There is no separation here. Officials should be recruited on merit and qualifications, but this has not happened over the last ten years. Recruitments are based on loyalty. And so they are accountable to the recruiters not to the people.
Prothom Alo: But we have got some good laws and policies in last ten years. Why is the administration unable to implement these?
Emajuddin Ahamed: They cannot implement these. That is the difference between Bangladesh and China. There they prepared the people and their driving force for development. There is a deficiency in this regard here in Bangladesh. Nobody is accountable. The government faces serious uncertainty as the people could not actually participate in the 30 December election.
Prothom Alo: Is this politics or a game of strategy? BNP has been defeated. It is not the responsibility of the ruling party to make them win. But the people did not take to the streets. BNP failed to lead them.
Emajuddin Ahamed: That is not true. The opposition did not need to do anything to inspire people before the election of the seventies. For long, the people were frustrated by misrule and deprivation and so they themselves burst out in protest. So the question you raised about the leadership today is hardly relevant.
Prothom Alo: How we are heading towards becoming a middle income country? Why are the international organisations considering Bangladesh as a country of great prospects?
Emajuddin Ahamed: This is nothing new. The country was considered a prospective one from ancient times. The arrival of the Dutch, Portuguese, French and English prove there was no poverty here. They would not have come if there had been no resources here. In 1750, this subcontinent owned fifty per cent of the global GDP. Greater Bengal owned more than fifty per cent of that GDP. So ships anchored here. They looted whatever they got. After the battle of Plassey, valuable assets were carried in 103 boats to Fort William and to London later. With these assets, the industrial revolution began in England.
Prothom Alo: What will the obstacles be in future and what is to be done?
Emajuddin Ahamed: A democratic system is required as well as the rule of law. I don’t foresee any progress if the will and whims of an individual are prioritised. The rule of law is required to make any development achieved so far sustainable. As per the constitution, the people will be owners of the country if accountability of the bureaucracy is established.
Prothom Alo: How do you foresee what will happen after ten years?
Emajuddin Ahamed: What is happening currently? Do you feel safe? The first 100 days of the government have already passed. Where is the security of the people? How many people are being killed on the roads and at different places? This is the responsibility of the government, but the government is failing. The officials are busy serving the ruling party. They will not serve the people unless a democratic government is established.
Prothom Alo: Does history say that the rule of law rests entirely in the hands of the rulers, that they will only establish it under pressure from political opponents?
Emajuddin Ahamed: As I said earlier, this society is more than 4,000 years of old. It is not even 50 years that this state was formed. How were you in the past? You were neglected and deprived. We have come to a new stage from the misrule of a thousand years after much sacrifice. Politics means bringing about development through creative process. If anything happens out of it, that is not politics.
Prothom Alo: How about the opposition? Why are the rightists and leftists along with BNP unable to tackle those destroying democracy in the name of politics?
Emajuddin Ahamed: There has been much manipulation in last ten years. The authorities have concealed to the world that the voting for the 30 December election actually took place on the night of 29 December. Other may remain silent, but why should people live in such insecurity.
Prothom Alo: What type of polarisation do you expect now?
Emajuddin Ahamed: Polarisation? The youth from the right and left were united in Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (DUCSU) elections.
Prothom Alo: This generated hope. Will that hope enter the mainstream?
Emajuddin Ahamed: I don’t know whether they will lead or not, but it is a beginning. The young people are suffering and this suffering will lead to realisation. They will find ways to come out of this situation.
Prothom Alo: I saw a book with you, ‘How Democracy Dies’. What is it about?
Emajuddin Ahamed: The two writers of this book published by Penguin are teachers Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. They showed how military rulers in the seventies used to harm democracy. They seized power by destroying democracy. Now the military isn't needed to harm democracy. The political leaders are enough for such misdeeds. They resort to all sorts of tactics to declare themselves elected. According to the book, the people elected in this way are running the economy in a way that makes a small number of people become extremely wealthy while poverty expands exponentially. The main objective is to create dependence on the rulers. Globally, the bureaucracy is being used in this process. That is why government officers and employees are recruited on the basis of party loyalty. Under such circumstances, the rulers can get themselves elected easily.
Prothom Alo: What is our immediate crisis?
Emajuddin Ahamed: If the people could cast their votes, the rulers would a position. But that has been weakened entirely after the 29 and 30 December. If things continue this way, the situation will reach at such a point that the common people will start a movement.
Prothom Alo: Three pillars of the state were created so that one would tackle if another fails. How did all the pillars become weak, even the fourth?
Emajuddin Ahamed: All are more or less related to the recruitment. Do you notice how judges are being recruited? That is a big reason behind the vulnerability of the judiciary. Given the manner on which the culture of injustice and impunity is growing, one day the people will say we have had enough. We want the democratic rights= to vote. We will tolerate autocracy no more.
Prothom Alo: After World War II, two thirds of the states got a constitution and democracy through autocracy. Trump, Modi and Putin, among others, are the result of democracy. How is that effective as a system?
Emajuddin Ahmed: These countries are going through stagnancy. They are not thinking of alternatives to change leaders through votes. May be we have to wait for 100 years more for alternatives to democracy.
Prothom Alo: What will BNP and Jatiya Party (JaPa) do as opposition in the parliament?
Emajuddin Ahamed: Is JaPa an opposition party? They are a small part of the ruling party. BNP is a party with one of its two main leaders abroad and the other in jail. I don’t want to make any comment as to how the party is in parliament.
Prothom Alo: Before the elections, you said BNP could play role if the party gets 50 to 60 seats….
Emajuddin Ahamed: But they didn't get that number of seats.
Prothom Alo: Why does BNP not say anything about Khaleda’s release on parole?
Emajuddin Ahamed: It is not a party matter. It depends on the decision of Khaleda Zia, her son and family.
Prothom Alo: In the past Sheikh Hasina had gone abroad on parole, though she did not agree in the beginning.
Emajuddin Ahamed: She did so after agreeing to to give legitimacy to the 9/11 military-backed caretaker government takeover. Khaleda Zia is no longer young, maybe around 75. The government cannot avoid blame if Khaleda Zia’s health falters. She is the first woman prime minister of Bangladesh. She took oath as prime minister three times, she was the opposition leader in parliament twice. She may get bail on the next hearing of her case. However, she has to seek bail. If she does not seek, she will not get bail. As Khaleda Zia rejected parole, she was not released. I think the condition of the country will be better if a political negotiation is done and Khaleda Zia is released. If the prime minister takes initiative, the pro-BNP people, around 40 per cent, will be grateful.
Prothom Alo: You had close discussions with Khaleda Zia on different occasions. What was her attitude towards Bangabandhu daughter?
Emajuddin Ahamed: I can tell you from Khaleda Zia’s recollection on how the two leaders passed time in the two special jails during the one eleven changeover. Sheikh Hasina shared her food with Khaleda Zia, Emajuddin quoted Khaleda Zia as saying.
Prothom Alo: Many say the 21 August incident embittered their relations.
Emajuddin Ahamed: If you go back, you will see many positive things. Do you believe that Sheikh Hasina actually cooked food and shared with Khaleda Zia? It is not proper to deprive a colleague who is ailing and getting on in years. After all, law, the court and trial are being controlled from one place.
Prothom Alo: The 'minus two' move brought brought them close.
Emajuddin Ahamed: Yes, it did. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina is now at a stage from where she can be liberal and this is expected of her. It will yield good results at national level. If Khaleda Zia gets bail and goes for treatment abroad and returns, politics will be better. BNP will let the government run better. Had there been respect between the two leaders I would have been personally happy. Had Khaleda Zia been released on bail, the leaders and activists of BNP across the country would have been very happy and the government would have been very strong.
Prothom Alo: How would the government have been strong?
Emajuddin Ahamed: People's acceptance of the government would increase.
Prothom Alo: Many believe, BNP is in parliament to save the party while the secretary general is out of the parliament to save his post.
Emajuddin Ahamed: This is correct that the secretary general should have joined parliament. He is supposed to inform the acting chairman about the decision of the standing committee. Now nothing can be said without contacting with Tarique. However, it was a right decision that Mirza Fakhrul has not joined parliament. Had he joined parliament, the party might have been split. I would have been happy had Mirza Fakhrul joined parliament. There would have been a unit of BNP in the opposition in parliament. He could unite all.
Prothom Alo: This is new move of both joining and boycotting parliament.
Emajuddin Ahamed: The 30 December is completely a new event. The major opposition with big public support got only six seats. That is surprising.
Prothom Alo: It has been heard that Zubaida (wife of Tarique) and Sithi (wife of Koko) will contest from constituencies reserved for women.
Emajuddin Ahamed: I will welcome Zubaida.
Prothom Alo: Do you want to see her to play key role in the parliamentary group of BNP.
Emajuddin Ahamed: It would be different if Mirza Fakhrul is there. Zubaida can play a prominent role.
Prothom Alo: Mirza Fakhrul was termed as a clown because of the announcements regarding joining the parliament. He was reading out the orders of Tarique. Is this an indication of A split in BNP?
Emajuddin Ahamed: BNP was likely to split and that was prevented. So far I know Tarique was able to stop the break. There was a risk of the party splitting. He has been able to stop it at the moment.
Prothom Alo: The fact is that the decision was an order, although Mirza Fakhrul claimed it to be a strategy to save face.
Emajuddin Ahamed: That is true. He had to work under some compulsion. He has tackled the matter for now.
Prothom Alo: How do you view the presence of Bangladesh in the Belt and Road summit in Beijing where Bhutan and India are absent?
Emajuddin Ahamed: I see a reflection of Ziaur Rahman's policy. He understood the necessity of maintaining relations with India and China simultaneously. I welcome this foreign policy of Sheikh Hasina.
Prothom Alo: Thank you
Emajuddin Ahamed: Thank you
*The interview, appeared in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam