Monday, March 12, 2012

Blatant coercion to thwart BNP rally

                  AL elected to govern, not to suppress the opposition

Yesterday we witnessed the naked and blatant use of not only the state's coercive machinery but also of the AL's party goons to thwart the BNP rally by infusing fear and panic in the minds of the public. Not only RAB and the police but also its party cadres were found preventing free movement of transport and people on the roads and highways and on the riverine routes, by force. It was shocking to see party goons empowered to coerce, harass and assault political opponents. 

In trying to project its so-called strength, and by bringing the country to a standstill practically by an undeclared hartal by the government, and by putting the capital practically under siege, the AL has only exposed its weakness. 

Would we be remiss to ask the government to explain why the public transport systems were off the road when even during the times of opposition-called strikes these are made to operate, sometimes with police protection to show that the hartal was unsuccessful? There is very little the public can do when the government calls hartal. 

We protest in the strongest possible terms the government's attitude of going to any length in exerting power so as not to allow any political space whatsoever to the BNP. And we protest also the fact that the media, particularly the electronic, were prevented from performing their task properly. 

The way the issue was handled doesn't speak much of the AL's political acumen. The party that came to power with 4/5th majority three years ago is now unwilling to permit a legitimate opposition to organise any mass activity. And in the process of thwarting the BNP by the use of brute power the public have been made to undergo not only humiliation but prevented from carrying out their day to day activity for the last three days. 

The AL's actions, attitude and talk do little credit to the credentials of a political party with a long tradition of struggle for democracy and people's political rights. All their talk of being the upholder of democratic principles has been made to sound hollow by the way they have handled the issue. 

We have been equally surprised by the shameless, blatant and cynical distortion of facts by some senior government and party stalwarts. They have exposed a convoluted mind by trying to paint a completely different picture than what we have been seeing and reading in the media. In doing so they are only fooling themselves, not the people. In the process there is a sever erosion of public confidence and trust in the leaders. 

We would like the AL to realise that it has been elected to govern and not to suppress the opposition.

Awami League's moral defeat

Government holds Dhaka city hostage

When does a government strangulate its capital city by preventing almost all modes of transport from reaching it? When does a government bring to a virtual halt almost all internal city movements? When does a government create such a panicky situation that traders do not open shops out of fear of vandalism? When does a government prevent its own citizens from carrying out their day to day activities? When do government leaders tell blatant lies on television while the truth is clearly the opposite? When does a ruling party let loose its goons upon normal citizens on suspicion that they might attend the opposition rally? When does an elected government adopt the most oppressive measure to prevent the opposition from holding a public rally? 

Only when it is unsure of itself. A party confident of its popular base, sure of its public support, certain of the efficacy of its policies and surefooted about its public record would never have done what the ruling Awami League did yesterday to prevent the BNP from holding its public rally. What the ruling party did over the last two days to prevent mass participation in the opposition rally reveals a political party frightened of the strength of the opposition and loath to allow it to show it. In its massive show of strength the Awami League looked its weakest. 

A party that only three and half years ago came to power with a massive four fifths majority in parliament should today be so frightened of a discredited (in the last election) opposition that it uses all, save the military, coercive machinery of the state to prevent its mass rally. What is it, if not a moral defeat?

The tragedy for the AL is that in attempting to suppress the opposition it has suppressed the citizens. Ordinary people were subjected to indescribable sufferings just to prevent the BNP from holding its rally. People who had nothing to do with the opposition's programme were searched, harassed, verbally abused and prevented from coming to Dhaka for their personal work on suspicion that they might join the rally. We have reports of job seekers scheduled to reach the Middle East not allowed to travel to Dhaka even after showing their tickets and passports. We have eyewitnesses to the fact that most launches were stopped at the point of origin and the few arriving at Sadarghat were prevented from reaching the shore and forced to go to far away jetties to let their passengers disembark, who then were stranded without any means of reaching their destinations. And we are not even talking of people arrested on suspicion and held in jails all over the country. 

We published photographs of stick wielding ruling party goons attacking passengers of buses and launches in order to prevent them from reaching Dhaka. What mindset, what myopia, what perverted logic, what disregard for ordinary people could have allowed a government party to permit its activists to attack ordinary passengers whose only “crime” was to want to come to Dhaka. Seldom can we find examples of such disrespect for the fundamental rights of the people. Is this the ruling party's example of democracy?

We also condemn the fact that the mass media, especially the electronic media, were prevented from fully carrying out their professional duties during yesterday's opposition programme. Several TV stations were barred from airing uninterrupted live coverage of the rally. A few channels that were covering stories of public sufferings during the course of the day were visited by intelligence people and told to tone down their coverage. In other cases the cable operators were partially prevailed upon to take some channels off the air during the peak hours of the opposition's rally. Such blatant interference in the media's function amounts to suppression of the freedom of the media and public's inalienable right to know.

The oppressive measures the ruling party resorted to in order to prevent the BNP rally has shocked us all. The use of police, the intelligence agencies, and late last night, the BGB stunned the ordinary citizens are to why such a massive show of states repressive machinery was necessary. The government's apology of an explanation that it was only trying to prevent the opposition from creating chaos was neither credible nor acceptable in the absence of any proof. The more the government leaders repeated this narrative the more they sounded hollow and more their real intention became clear. 

The question today is not what BNP did or how big was its rally, but what the ruling Awami League did. It showed a most ugly repressive face. It demonstrated that it would not hesitate to take any measure, however harsh, use any coercive instrument of state, impose any amount of sufferings on ordinary people, tell their fibs regardless of what the truth is, impose needless restrictions on public movement to prevent the opposition from carrying out protest activities permitted in a democracy. It may not realize that by its actions of the last two days the AL's image as a party that believes in democracy stands seriously damaged and its claim that it wants the opposition to play its legitimate role stands questioned. 

We are sorry that Khaleda Zia has called a hartal on the 29th of this month, which we are opposed to in principle. But the issue of some sort of neutral body presiding over the election period and allowing the Election Commission to function freely is a legitimate question that AL cannot wish away. Here the opposition is right and the ruling party is wrong. The latter will have to concede on this point if it wants an election participated by all parties. Terming all BNP's actions as attempts to subvert the war crimes trial is a misconceived strategy and may have the opposite effect than intended. It is true that the BNP's position on the war crimes trial is condemnable (we will write separately on it) but its demand for an interim government for free and fair elections is justified. 

We want to say in clear terms that the AL's policy towards the opposition, as exhibited in the last two days, is fundamentally undemocratic, legally untenable and practically unsustainable. What if the opposition calls for a similar programme a few months later? Will the government strangulate the country again for days? Will the public accept such sufferings again and again? As a country that proudly tells the world of its democracy such behaviour from its ruling party is totally unacceptable. The quicker the AL learns it, the better it is for its prospects in the next polls. 


Bangladesh braced for mass rally

Thousands of police and soldiers are patrolling the streets of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, ahead of a major anti-government rally.

Schools and shops were closed as crowds of Bangladeshi opposition supporters gathered in Dhaka. 

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) says hundreds of its members have already been arrested.

The BNP wants the government to step down and hold new elections under a neutral caretaker administration. 

The ruling Awami League has already rejected the idea. The next national election is due to be held by early 2014.

Under the previous system, at the end of an elected government's term, a caretaker administration would take over to ensure that elections were conducted in an impartial manner. 

The BNP believes elections overseen by the incumbent government would not be free or fair and has said it will not take part in the next elections if the caretaker government system is not restored.
At least 15,000 policemen and border guards had been deployed in the capital, Dhaka's deputy police commissioner told the AFP news agency.

The BNP says hundreds of their supporters have been arrested in the last few days all across the country.
It also accused the government of preventing many more from joining the rally by cancelling bus and ferry services to Dhaka 

But Dhaka police denied to AFP that any arrests were to do with the rally. The government says it is only taking precautionary measures to prevent any violence during the rally.

The BBC's Ethirajan Anbarasan in Dhaka cites fears that the rally could trigger more anti-government protests affecting the uneasy political peace of recent years.

Some warn that the political turmoil could threaten the country's already weak economy and drive away investors.