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The 20th council of the ruling Awami League passed off earlier this week in a festive mood as thousands of delegates from all over the country gathered to listen to party leaders about how to move the party forward and bring the government closer to the people.
The council deserves appreciation no doubt for selecting Mr. Obaidur Qadir, the communication minister, as the new general secretary who seems to be more pro-active and constantly in touch with people unlike the outgoing general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam, who was essentially an amiable person but preferred to live more in seclusion and left to himself.
No message for pluralism
The event allowed party leaders to outline new strategy to continue the party in power, but many believe that it could have also been used as an opportunity to give the massage to the opposition parties of a more tolerant political beginning to overcome the continuing bitterness and the great political divide characterized by violence and hostilities from both sides.
Bangladesh needs political stability and peace for development as political uncertainty and violence is seriously affecting local and foreign investments.
People want safety of life and security and intensely dislike unseemly power struggle between the two major parties. The Prime Minister has expressed her zero tolerance against militants but similar warning against unnecessary harassment of innocent people by police and other law enforcement agencies as well as the ruling party cadres could have conveyed a sense of safety and tolerance to common people.
What people want is that democratic means must decide to effect any change of the government but the key to such changes, as always, is now in the hands of the ruling Awami League. Any significant message for change in political environment that could make doing business much more easy would have been welcome.
The party president and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has now been elected to run the country’s oldest political party for the eighth consecutive term could use her power and influence to set a new tone and texture in politics giving the call for a qualitative change in the leadership since her party is in power for over eight years.
The new general secretary seems to be working to bring many changes in the leadership by inducting new faces at some senior leadership level. But any big change and opening that must come to take politics to a turning point needs much bigger steps which cannot come without the initiative and concurrence of the AL President who calls all the shots.
Issues on corruption, incompetence
The council has missed the occasion to discuss serious issues affecting common people’s life such as the deteriorating law and order in the country. It could warn unruly elements against crimes and violence and demand more disciplined behaviors from them. It is no secret that young ruling party cadres are widely blamed for rape and sexual harassment of school and college girls. They are also being accused of extortion and torturing people in many other forms.
The media is routinely reporting such crimes, violence and toll collection by those party cadres under the shelter of local leaders. Many party men are stealing the heavily subsidized rice meant for the suffering poor and selling it in the black market. It is a shame on the nation and for the party. Police are helpless while many families are living in constant fear and desperately searching how to save their young girls.
No doubt, those perpetrators are criminals indulging in crimes but why the ruling party leadership should be seen to be sheltering them.
Leaders have also failed to declare a ‘war against corruption’ at all level of the government and party hierarchy. It could have made the government to be responsive to peoples’ demand and absolve themselves of the responsibility of corruption being attributed for those for bank loot and money laundering.
It is mostly accepted that Bangladesh has reached a point where it is making significant socio-economic progress and is in the midst of receiving more offers for development assistance from different sources. The recent huge Chinese pledges and the World Bank offer are the cases in point.
This actually calls for the government to undertake deep-seated political and administrative reforms to ensure that the country’s administrative as well as political apparatuses are made capable of handling such a huge task that has been thrust upon it at all level.
Mix bag of reactions
The record of the country’s capability to utilize available resources does not speak for much of its successes. Apart from assistance from sources such the Word Bank and others, the Chinese have pledged to invest about $25 billion in the course of next five years and the enormity of this task itself can baffle the mind of any administration.
In the fitness of things, it may be pointed out that China has just announced the removal of one million party officials on charges of corruption. Our system of government allegedly is now overcrowded with corrupt and incompetent people and the ruling party council has seemingly failed to project any such signal against its stand on corruption and incompetence.
At the council Sheikh Hasina called on the party leaders and workers to get prepared for next election and praised the party men for having firm control over local politics. This statement has made it clear that the country’s opposition parties can hardly expect any more political space than they enjoy now – which is next to nothing –even during the coming election.
Contrary to expectations that the ruling party could open its window to the opposition by encouraging them to attend the council, it did not happen. BNP had publicly announced that it would attend but later declined, blaming lack of AL leaders’ interest to receive a delegation of the major opposition in their council. Jatiya Party leader Hussain Mohammad Ershad and his wife Rawshan Ershad, who is the official leader of the opposition in parliament, left the council as none had shown any interest in receiving them.
However, 52 foreign delegates attended the council giving an international flavour to it, but the absence of local opposition political leaders robbed it off a good image that could have been achieved.