Space For Rent

Space For Rent
Monday, April 27, 2015, Baishakh 14, 1422 BS, Rajab 7, 1436 Hijr

Begum Zia's press conference: Full of lies, no contrition
Syed Badrul Ahsan
Published : Monday, 27 April, 2015,  Time : 10:41 AM,  View Count : 74
BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia reminded the country yet once again through a press conference yesterday that the military leader General Ziaur Rahman, who founded the BNP while in power, had restored multi-party democracy in the country in his times. That is a brazen departure from the truth, for what Zia did was not a restoration of pluralistic democracy but an opening of the floodgates to reactionary politics. He simply made it possible for the collaborators of the 1971 Yahya Khan junta to rehabilitate themselves in the politics of Bangladesh, a country they had fought tooth and nail to prevent from emerging as a sovereign state. Zia's multi-party democracy was a mutation of politics. It moved backward, from the secular to the communal. It undermined the spirit of the War of Liberation.
Begum Zia's statements yesterday were, again, an exercise in repetition. She spoke of the 5 January 2014 elections as an electoral exercise where voters could not take part. The fact that the elections were held under the terms of the Constitution, that they could not be deferred only because a political party not only refused to take part in them but also called for public resistance to the voting, that the law did not permit voting under caretaker or interim arrangements was a truth carefully kept under the rug. The BNP chief would not tell us the truth --- that her party had deliberately stayed away from the election, which is why so many lawmakers were returned unopposed to Parliament. It is not that people were deprived of the right to vote. It is that the absence of rival candidates made it possible for the other nominees to be elected. One does not and cannot blame the Election Commission or the government for upholding the Constitution thus.
The former prime minister has expressed her fears about possible rigging at the forthcoming city corporation elections. The nation hopes, along with her, that the fairness of the elections will be maintained strictly by all. This entire matter of rigging, let the nation be reminded, would not be there if the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its leaders had not initiated the process of questionable voting practices. The Yes-No referendum organized by General Zia in April 1977 comes to mind. So do the stealing of votes at the Magura bye-election of 1994 and the general elections minus voters of February 1996 during the BNP regime. But, of course, none of this history is ever referred to by Begum Zia or her loyalists.
The BNP chief's press conference yesterday brought into the public domain issues of a more serious, indeed extremely grave import. The former prime minister openly asked voters to accept bribes from those who offered it to them, but then advised them to cast their votes in accordance with their conscience. That advice raises some clear and worrying ethical questions. In the first place, asking voters to accept bribe money is tantamount to telling them that such corrupt practices are all right, especially when the advice comes from an individual who has been head of government more than once. In the second, even as she advised voters to keep their faith --- imaan --- intact, Begum Zia was sending out the message to them that being corrupt and being true to faith could be measured on the same scale or that the two were interchangeable. It was almost like asking a man to get drunk but not forget to offer prayers. Is it not a violation of the electoral code of conduct to ask voters to take money from candidates?
Politicians grow in office --- and out of it as well. They are expected to serve as beacons to the societies they aspire to provide leadership to. They are expected to abide by norms and rules and conventions. When yesterday the BNP Chairperson made a direct appeal to voters to cast their ballots in favour of the candidates from her party, she chose not to remember that the city corporation elections were non-party. More importantly, by soliciting votes for her people, she made sure that her demand for a level playing field was itself being undermined by her. She spoke for her candidates, but the same was absent in the case of candidates coming from the Awami League, the Jatiya Party and other organizations. Neither Sheikh Hasina nor her ministers were able to seek votes for their candidates. General Ershad and his party leaders stayed away from such electioneering. They were all upholding the electoral code of conduct. Begum Zia wasn't. What lessons should one to draw from such deliberate violations of the rules of the game? The answer is simple, which is that the BNP chief is free to flout the rules but everyone else must abide by them. She can even ignore court orders to demonstrate her 'uncompromising' leadership. Is she above the law?
One last word. It is quite understandable that as a mother Begum Zia will grieve for her dead child, an emotion she demonstrated naturally yesterday. But she showed absolutely no regret, demonstrated not a bit of contrition, had not a single word of sympathy, for the scores of citizens who have died as a consequence of her blockade and hartal agitation.
That is not what one expects of a former prime minister. When a leading politician goes into denial mode, into manifest tribalism, there is a clear conclusion to be drawn: her politics has shrunk and is no more geared to the welfare of the nation.
Hence, people must give their mandate through ballots to reply to Begum Zia and her BNP-Jamaat politics of petrol bombs, violence and arson.

Editor : Iqbal Sobhan Chowdhury
Published by the Editor on behalf of the Observer Ltd. from Globe Printers, 24/A, New Eskaton Road, Ramna, Dhaka. Editorial, News and Commercial Offices : Aziz Bhaban (2nd floor), 93, Motijheel C/A, Dhaka-1000. Phone :9586651-58. Fax: 9586659-60, Advertisemnet: 9513663, E-mail: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected].