Wednesday, February 04, 2009

First 30 Days


In its first 30 days in office the Awami League-led Mahajote government, besides some occasional glitches, has shown promise

The last general elections, in which the Awami League (AL) and its centre-left coalition have won an overwhelming majority, were held in the backdrop of unabashed corruption and equally shameless nepotism of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led Four Party Alliance government. In the latter’s five-year-rule the country’s democratic polity hit hard and a state of anarchy prevailed in its economy. The elections of December 29 have proven that, the ordinary voters do not forgive their politicians for any mistakes; the polls have witnessed the fall of the titans of the ‘nationalist politics’--all the big guns of the BNP have been silenced by the voters. Besides its rival’s tainted past in governance, what has helped the AL to win such a big victory is the statesmanship that Sheikh Hasina, the party chief, has shown in the run up to the elections.

When, in a last ditch attempt to withstand a possible wipe-out, the BNP chief indulged herself in mudslinging and character assassination, Hasina remained composed, her speeches showed vision to a people grown weary of promises made by politicians. Her dreams of ‘digital Bangladesh’ and a ‘poverty free country’ also generated huge enthusiasm among the young first-time voters. Elections, for the AL, were a smooth sailing. The real challenge has come later.

Faced with the task of forming her cabinet, Hasina has relied on the fresh blood in her rank. It is indeed surprising to see the AL, which is the oldest political party in the country, come up with a band of ministers who are young and some of the holders of important portfolios have been elected for the first time. The presence of those allegedly involved in corruption and thuggery in Hasina’s cabinet is being kept at a bare minimum.

The AL, in its third term in office, has shown political maturity. It has rightly reduced the prices of diesel and fertiliser, which is going to give impetuous to the green revolution. All is well on the economic front too; even though the rest of the world is going through a recession, Bangladesh’s economic indicators have remained buoyant. Bangladesh has stood third in the world of ready-made garment export. Growth, in this fiscal year, one hopes, will be greater than the previous one. Prices of essentials have come down to the reach of the masses, and with another bumper production of rice in the offing it is expected that the prices of rice and dahl will fall further.

The government has also taken the right step of forming a war crime tribunal to bring the perpetrators of the genocide of 1971 to book. The move is going to gain the party widespread support, as one of the reasons behind the BNP’s election debacle is its patronisation of the war criminals. The government has also initiated the process of building Padma Bridge and Ganga barrage.

Even though the AL has come up with a revolutionary charter for change, followed by a cabinet with fresh vibrant faces, in its first 15 days in office, the AL leadership has initially failed to tame its young members, some of whom ran berserk, illegally taking control of different educational institutions while the law enforcers looked on. In the face of mounting criticism, the prime minister herself intervened, instructing the leaders of her party’s student body to behave. Over the last few days, the law and order situation has also posed a problem to the new administration; in the last one month incidents of killing and mugging have increased; mob violence specially setting fire to public and private properties by students to draw attention to their demands has become a norm.

Another episode that has blemished the AL government’s first one month is the Upazila elections, when an AL MP has been found violating the electoral laws, prompting the Election Commissioner to opine that he has been disappointed to see the actions of some ruling law makers.

A lot more actually needs to be done. Sheikh Hasina and her colleagues must keep in mind that the voters have put their faith in the party thinking that this time the AL will be able to bring about the change it said it would bring to the country. It is alarming to see the old gangsters back in the business of mugging and extortion. To improve the law and order situation, the government, on a priority basis, has to overhaul the police, which, as a force, have lost the trust of the general public. New officers have to be recruited, and the force has to be allowed to work neutrally.

It is not possible to root out the corruption from the country in a month, which has spread its tentacles over the last couple of decades. Hasina and her team should allow the Anti-Corruption Commission to work freely; the latter needs to work with diligence, putting emphasis on institutionalised corruption.

We hope, moreover, that a new pro-people economic policy is going to be taken where poverty alleviation will be prioritised, and the government will play a pro-active role to tackle the storm that is brewing in the big economies across the globe.

The first 30 days of Hasina government have gone on well. The new face of governance that the prime minister has brought about shows the promise of a brighter beginning. Her strength is the people of the country who have given her the mandate to change the course of history. It is only hoped that her term in office is going to sow the seeds of a Bangladesh free of bigotry and intolerance, a country on strong financial footing, the Golden Bangla that the founding fathers of our country dared to dream of.