The issues of democracy, voting rights, rule of law and freedom of expression are so universal that the definitions of these do not change with the change of power. Those who change the definitions according to their convenience, smack of desperation. Actually, the people have seen and heard such a surfeit of success in the newspapers and TV channels, that now they have been hit rather hard -- whether by the diminishing reserves or the energy crisis or agonising price hike of essentials.
While Obaidul Quader was speaking to the journalists that day, explaining the country's political situation and his party's stand, the state minister for planning Shamsul Alam was at another seminar about food security. He said, "Corruption has overridden the country's development." He said, "I do not understand why I cannot hear strong voices in the parliament protesting about corruption where people are walking away with huge benefits, taking away half the funds allocated for roads, while corruption is depriving the rest of their due." He said, "I am a minister, but I still want to hear the members of parliament speaking about how to lessen corruption. Development is very beneficial if it can be made corruption-free... Even after being elected, many are involved in sharing the loot and this cannot be denied. A corruption-free country is necessary for a good and quality life."
The persons about whom the state minister was speaking, are members of Bangladesh's national parliament. To be more specific, they are members of the ruling party. Ministers, state ministers and MPs get away with blunt statements. But if the journalists speak out or write, vitriol is spewed out against them. Many journalists are tortured for revealing the corruption and irregularities, along with all proof and evidence, of those in power. They have to face all sorts of problems. The Digital Security Act is such a law that if anyone faces a case under this act, they are simply flung behind bars.
Just because corruption and money laundering took place during BNP's reign, doesn't make it permissible during Awami League's rule.
Obaidul Quader went on to say, "We have made mistakes too. Even so, we are working for the country." No one will disagree with him on this. Much development work has taken place during the Awami League rule. The GDP has expanded. Many mega projects have been implemented and are being implemented. The budget has exceeded Tk 6.5 trillion (Tk 6.5 lakh crore). It has been during this government that a massive project like the Padma Bridge has been implemented. No one is denying these achievements of the government.
At the same time, it is also true that a section of people have made billions from all this development, and siphoned off billions and billions of taka abroad. When these matters are revealed, the government's ministers and Awami League leaders are displeased. They point to the corruption, money laundering and crime during BNP's rule. Just because corruption and money laundering took place during BNP's reign, doesn't make it permissible during Awami League's rule. The people are assessing how much corruption took place and how much money was laundered during BNP times, and how much this has happened in Awami League times.
Awami League has been in power at a stretch for around 14 years now. Winning the election in 2008, they formed the 'government for change' in 2009. Now, 14 years on, can the Awami League leaders in all honesty say that there has been any change for the majority of the population? There has been no change. There has been change for a handful of people. Even the fights and feuds among Awami League leaders and workers all over the country, is all about the booty. It is such a huge party with so many leaders and activists, not everyone has had the taste of power. This is not possible.
In their election manifesto, Awami League said it would have zero tolerance against corruption, crime, militancy and drugs. After 14 years, other than quelling militancy, have they been successful in the other areas at all? When the government has been strict, whether as a part of political ploy or under international pressure, they have succeeded. In other areas, they have displayed abject failure.
The country has economic problems. The government is trying, in its own way, to resolve these problems. Some may disagree with the government's policies and strategies, but no one is saying the government is inactive. The problem is that the government is not admitting that there is a political crisis over the forthcoming election. The arguments being put forward by the Awami League leaders in favour of elections under a political government, are the same arguments which BNP's ministers and leaders used in the past. If the people did not accept BNP's arguments then, why will they accept Awami League's arguments now? BNP wanted to hold the election with 12 million fake voters, but could not. While Awami League drew up a most transparent voters list, why could they not hold a free and fair election? The solution to the election crisis lies in the answer to that question.
In Bangladesh, it is never the opposition that creates big problems, it is those in power that do. The people have been witnessing this for the past 51 years. How much longer do they have to see this? Awami League leaders may term one party as terrorists, another party as militants, but this cannot be any justification to snatch away people's voting rights. When will the people be released from this twisted game of politics?
* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet.
* This article appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir