BNP conference and citizens' expectation

daily star

daily star

2009-12-07__point21
Time to take stock anew. Photo: A.M.Ahad/ Drik News

THE BNP’s national council, to be held after nearly 16 years, has generated much interest among both party loyalists and citizen groups. Within the party, this interest is manifested in competition, often violent, for holding higher positions and influence.

The in-fighting is due to competing individual interests among the party activists. In today’s Bangladesh, the primary reason for joining and being active in political parties is the receipt of patronage. It is now well known that the party in power, or coming into power, will reward its followers with benefits, both due and undue.

Key officeholders get even more benefits. With the possibilities of such payoffs in play, it is natural that self-interested people should join major parties and resort to any means, including violence, to achieve prominence. This is what has been happening within both the Awami League and the BNP.

The violent conflict within the BNP rank and file is undoubtedly scandalous. However, it is perhaps even more scandalous for the party higher-ups to deny the problem and shift the blame to the government. With so many legitimate grounds to criticise the government, it is ironic that BNP chooses to invent such disingenuous charges. This is an ugly, all-too-blatant, manifestation of our bankrupt politics.

Such a blame-game must end. The first step towards solving the problem is to recognise its existence. However, by refusing to admit that it has serious conflicts within the party, BNP is sidestepping the need to resolve the issue. Unfortunately, avoiding an issue, as everyone knows, does not make it go away; it only allows it to become bigger and more serious in the future.

It is also well known that nowadays people rarely join our major political parties out of an attraction to their ideology or programs. They do so primarily to get a share of the pie. In fact, politics over the years has become a very profitable “business” — a shameless get-rich-quick scheme. Slogans and symbolism, rather than ideology and principles, have now become the main tools of its trade. Thus, the principal purpose of the competition and conflict within major political parties is for aspirants to get as close as possible to the all-powerful leaders at the top.

Such closeness proportionally increases the opportunity and amount of patronage and favour.

It is no wonder, then, that so much jockeying and manipulation are the order of the day.

In contrast, citizens like us are interested in BNP’s convention for very different reasons. We want to see BNP learn from its past painful experiences and stay clear of the excesses and wrongdoings that led it into trouble. We want them to start practicing democracy, transparency and accountability within the party hierarchy — not only for their own sake, but also for the sake of the nation. We also hope that they will free the party from the clutches of selfishness, corruption and dynastic politics.

As citizens, we want BNP to comply with the Representation of the People Order (Amendment) Act, 2009, passed in the first session of the 9th Parliament, especially the conditions for registration of political parties. Section 90B of the amended RPO contains the conditions for such registration, the most important of which are: 90 (1) (b) “[…] political party desiring to be registered with the Commission, shall have the following specific provisions in its constitution, namely:

-To elect the members of the committees at all levels, including members of the central committee;

-To fix the goal of reserving at least 33% of all committee positions for women, including the central committee, and achieving this goal by the year 2020;

-To prohibit formation of any organisation or body as its affiliated or associated body consisting of the teachers or students of any educational institution or the employees or labourers of any financial, commercial or industrial institution or establishment, or the members of any other profession: Provided that nothing shall prevent them from organising independently in their respective fields or forming an association, society, trade union etc. and exercising all democratic and political rights, and individual, subject to the provisions of the existing laws, to be a member of any political party;

-To finalise nomination of candidates by the central parliamentary board of the party in consideration of panels prepared by members of the ward, union, thana, upazila or district committee, as the case may be, of the concerned constituency.”

Section 90C of the RPO also provides: 90 C (I) “A political party shall not be qualified for registration under this Chapter, if … (e) there is any provision in its constitution for the establishment or operation of any office, branch or committee outside the territory of Bangladesh.”

That is, the law mandates the practice of democracy within the party rank and file. It is also illegal to have affiliated and associated organisations of the party. In addition, it would be a violation of the law to have any branch or office of the party outside Bangladesh. It is important to note that the mere inclusion of these provisions in the party constitution is not enough — they must be put to practice. The unfortunate truth is that foreign branches of political parties often take intra-party conflicts outside the country, badly tarnishing the image of Bangladesh.

It may be pointed out that the Awami League and Jatiya Party did not fully comply with these provisions of the RPO. Their committees were not elected; Awami League also played a very unfortunate game by designating its affiliated bodies as associated organisations, although both are illegal.Their foreign branches also still exist.

Will BNP be able to rise above this culture of non-compliance? It goes without saying that unless laws are implemented, we will not have the rule of law. Without rule of law, the rule of jungle prevails — thus the strong prey on the weak, the rich on the poor, and the powerful on the disenfranchised. Such conditions eat away at the vitality of a nation, pushing it into a state of dysfunction.

It may be noted that, while adopting the RPO framed during the caretaker government, the 9th Parliament ratified the conditions of registration of political parties under the Election Commission, but removed the EC’s authority to deregister parties for non-compliance.

By doing so, Parliament has made compliance with the conditions for registrations discretionary rather than mandatory and, in the process, has clipped the authority of the EC, turning it into a paper tiger. Note further that, during the caretaker government, the registration conditions were hammered out through many consultations between the EC and the political parties — they were not unilaterally imposed by the EC.

According to media reports, the BNP chairperson may designate the future leadership, rather than the leadership being elected by the councilors — which would be a violation of the law and thus totally unacceptable. Rumours also abound that BNP will amend its constitution, more or less keeping the chairperson’s power intact — now BNP chairperson has almost absolute power and she can do and undo anything — which will also be contrary to democratic norms.

It is clear from our past experience that, given the opportunity, power tends to concentrate, with unfettered power leading to undesirable outcomes. Such outcomes may not only be a bad omen for the party, but for the country as well.

To conclude, politicians often complain that what they do is their own business; why should some citizens be concerned about it? They infer that politics is for politicians and others should not poke their noses into it. It is obvious, however, that citizens cannot keep mum.

Political parties are not private clubs; they are constitutionally recognised entities, the effectiveness of which primarily determines whether democracy succeeds in Bangladesh. If political parties are not democratic and they are not transparent, accountable and are committed to the people’s welfare, it is unrealistic to expect good and democratic governance in the country.

Furthermore, even private clubs cannot do anything they like; they must comply with prevailing laws and cannot act against public interest. Thus, the behaviour of political parties and the public welfare are inextricably tied together — for the consequences of the irresponsibility of political parties will have to be borne not by the parties alone, but by all citizens of Bangladesh.

Dr. Badiul Alam Majumder is secretary, SHUJAN.

Reference by: The Daily Star, 7 December 09

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