By electing the speaker of Bangladesh parliament as its chairperson the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) has sealed all the controversy on the legitimacy of the legislature that was elected in the national elections held on January 5 this year. The election of Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury to the post is an unfettered recognition of the CPA to the present parliament of Bangladesh, according to political observers. Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury was elected chairperson of the CPA on Thursday at the 60th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Cameroon's Yaoundé to become the first Bangladeshi elected to the prestigious post of the international democratic organisation. Such international recognition is likely to defuse anti-government campaign, which however is yet to gain momentum despite repeated efforts of the leadership in the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led alliance.
It is another very good news for Bangladesh from global arena as only a couple of weeks ago Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her daughter Saima Wajed Putul drew laurels from international community in the United Nations General Assembly for their roles as a statesperson and a child psychologist respectively.
However, if not bad, it is not encouraging news for the opponents of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who began her second consecutive and the third term after winning the January 5 elections. Since then BNP and its allies have relentlessly been trying to brand the government and the parliament as illegal since most members were elected unopposed in the elections.
However at the onset of their campaign at home and abroad they were on an upbeat mood early this year as some countries including the United States and international communities like the United Nations talked in favour of a mid-term election to be participated by intending political parties. But frustration gripped the opponents gradually as the government of Sheikh Hasina managed to regain international supports and recognition through diplomatic performance, said the political observers.
The BNP led 20-party alliance tried in vain to stop the January 5 elections by conducting a yearlong violent agitation ahead of the national poll. However they continued to warn harsh anti-government campaigns, but the opposition action programmes fizzled out due to lack of leadership and public support. At least 300 people including 70 Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) activists, 15 policemen, four members of Border Guard Bangladesh and two soldiers of Bangladesh Army were killed in the yearlong violence and arson that also maimed several thousands of innocent people, destroyed huge public and private properties including hundreds of vehicles and felled thousands of street-side trees, ahead of the election.
The violence sparked as JI activists went on destructive actions protesting against verdicts of the International Crimes Tribunal (ICT) that sentenced a number of JI leaders to death for crimes against humanity during Bangladesh Liberation War 1971. The anti-government agitation was further intensified when BNP-led 20-party alliance launched agitation in its abortive bid to compel the government to hold the election under a non-party caretaker government. The agitation was smoothed out as the authorities successfully subdued all political adversaries across the country.
Meanwhile leaders, supporters and activists of BNP and JI realised that boycotting the national elections and resorting to deadly violence were blunders that alienated them from the general public. BNP activists also realised that the refusal of BNP chief Khaleda Zia to accept an invitation to sit for dialogue offered by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina before the election was wrong. They also said the way Khaleda Zia had retorted against the invitation of Sheikh Hasina was not decent and ultimately the telephone call initiated by Hasina ended in an ugly bickering, that drew flak from most people of the country.
According to political observers BNP, the de facto major opposition party in the country is also divided on war crimes tribunal. A section of the party supports prosecution for war crimes by the ICT, while others suggest that ICT was politically motivated.
As the people including supporters and activists of the 20-party alliance in the capital earlier publicly ignored Khaleda Zia's repeated calls to come out in the streets to topple the government, BNP and its allies could realise that people are no more interested to joint street protests.
Many BNP supporters remember that on May 5 evening last year when thousands of Hefajat-e-Islam activists besieged Shapla Chattar, Begum Zia ordered her party men and requested the people in Dhaka to come out of home and join Hefajat militants, that put the city centre on fire during a violent agitation that killed a dozen of people on day. But the call was not heeded; rather the Dhaka Metropolitan Police in an unprecedented drive with new law enforcing techniques drove away more than 10,000 of Hefajat activists in a half-an-hour operation. Before the January 5 election, during continuous blockade, Khaleda Zia also urged people repeatedly to come out to the street to compel the government to cancel the polls, but all calls went in vain.
The election of Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury has apparently sealed all political argument ensuring support to Hasina government. Following her election, Speaker Shirin Sharmin will lead the 35-member executive committee of the CPA that promotes parliamentary democracy in the erstwhile British colonies, for the next three years. Sharmin will be replacing Sir Alan Haselhurst, MP, a member of the United Kingdom's House of Commons who was elected to the post in the 57th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference held in London on July 27, 2011. Soon after the election, Sharmin presided over a meeting of the new executive committee at the conference venue on Thursday. Sharmin has become the 21st chairperson of the CPA executive committee since the association was established in 1967.
Juliana O' Connor-Connoly, speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Cayman Islands, was the only rival of the Bangladesh speaker in the election race. Sharmin received 70 votes while Connor-Connoly bagged 67. Out of the total 321 votes, 137 voters from 175 members of the association turned up at the general assembly which is the lone authorized body to elect the chairperson of the CPA executive committee.
Considering her excellent academic career and contributions to women empowerment and democracy, the western countries, including the British parliament, in August suggested Chaudhury contest the votes.r
The writer is Business Editor of The Daily Observer. He can be reached at [email protected]