Yajuddin Ahmed as a caretaker chief � a bad news for Bangladesh

A.H. Jaffor Ullah

Published on February 13, 2007

Yajuddin Ahmed�s ascension to power in Bangladesh was dramatic. Virtually an unknown person, politically speaking of course, in Bangladesh, he was nominated to be the president of Bangladesh by Khaleda Zia, the chief of BNP, in September 2002 when ex-president Badruddoza Chowdhury was booted out of the office because he did not follow the dictums of BNP leader�s to remain neutral, which is what Dr. Chowdhury wanted to do to bring gravitas to the highest position in the land.

Dr. Yajuddin, an extremely partisan president, has become a controversial person as he steers the troubled land of 145 million at this difficult time when opposition political parties are united together to demand reform in the electoral process so that a fair election could take place in January 2007.

Before mid-October 2006, the fourteen-party opposition alliance had been pressing for the dismissal of the future caretaker government chief, retired justice K.M. Hasan, on the ground that the man cannot be trusted to be neutral. They also demanded that the chief of the Election Commission, retired Justice Aziz, should be removed along with a handful of election commissioners fearing that an election engineering could be in the offing if they are allowed to stay in the office.

In late October 2006, a political stalemate resulted when the entire country was brought to standstill by the combined opposition on the issue of the removal of Justice Hasan�s name from becoming the next chief of the caretaker government when Khaleda Zia�s term ends in the last week of October 2006. On October 28, 2006, Yajuddin Ahmed, became the chief executive of Bangladesh�s government by becoming the chief of caretaker government. His detractors say that he had grossly violated the constitution of Bangladesh for not following the procedure outlined in it. Under pressure from the opposition political parties Justice Hasan withdrew his name from becoming the next chief of the caretaker government. There were other justices available to fill the slot but Yajuddin Ahmed did not follow the guideline and declared himself to be the next chief of the caretaker government. The opposition was surprised by this unprecedented development; they however accepted the nomination with precondition that Yajuddin would act neutrally to conduct the election. Within a short time, a ten-member advisory board was formed to conduct the business of the government. Unlike Yajuddin, the advisors were non-partisan who were very willing to help the president steer the nation for a fair election. But wait! The story becomes very interesting as Yajuddin shows his real color.

Even though the ten advisors took oath for the office but Yajuddin decided not to consult them on national matters. He was seeking advice from leftover bureaucrats loyal to departed Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, on such sensitive matter as bringing army to street to quell mass protest against reformation of nation�s Election Commission. Buckled under pressure, Yajuddin had to revoke that order that he signed so eagerly hours earlier. Regarding army mobilization in certain areas he kept his advisors in dark creating all kinds of miasmas. This monstrous gaffe did not bother him that much though.

Mind you that being a research professor all his life Yajuddin had no background in law. And that showed up in a big way when he quipped that Bangladesh had entered a presidential rule. Yajuddin forgot very conveniently that he is wearing two hats. One that of the president and the other that of the caretaker chief. He thought of him as a mini dictator and for that reason he did not have a dialogue with his advisors. The newspapers coming out of Dhaka published all kinds of stories relating to a developing acrimonious relationship between him and his advisors.

The opposition parties in Bangladesh were asking Yajuddin to sack Justice Aziz from the position of the chief of the Election Commission. The advisors of the caretaker government also hopelessly tried to persuade him to fire the obstinate EC chief but he was reading from the script written by BNP operatives. Soon the advisors understood very easily that Yajuddin is a partisan president and he was acting to preserve the interest of one political party. Again, when pressure from all corners became unbearable, he let KM Aziz go on vacation for 90 days. In reality, Aziz won�t be coming back to reclaim his position because the election would take place in the next 90 days. The opposition alliance now says that they do not trust the remaining commissioners of the EC but Yajuddin is noncommittal on removing the partisan members from the commission. It seems as if Yajuddin is reading from the script written by someone who is not part of the caretaker government. The ten-member advisors are aware of Yajuddin�s recidivistic attitude and his fondness for partisanship. He is yet to fathom out the gravity of the situation. Needless to say, all eyes are on him. He will find it extremely difficult to extricate him from any failure that may emanate if his partisan action may lead to an election debacle in January 2007.

As I am writing this piece, another gaffe is unfolding centering on the liaison between the remnants of BNP-favored bureaucrats and BNP. The opposition political parties have been saying all along that the Khaleda Zia Administration had left enough sycophant bureaucrats in the government who could tip the election in favor of the BNP. Therefore, they urged Yajuddin to do something about the civil administration but he is turning a deaf ear to opposition�s plea. The caretaker advisors realizing the problem also wanted to remedy this inequity in civil administration. However, they quickly found out that Yajuddin is both nonchalant and oblivious to this growing problem. On November 24, 2006 a secret meeting took place in the northern suburb of Dhaka between the government bureaucrats and a BNP politician and the press learned about the rendezvous where they took photos of the government cars outside the meeting place. The ten-member advisors are calling for the firing of the government bureaucrats; however, it remains to be seen if Yajuddin takes any action to discipline these rogue government high officials.

It has been only 30 days that Yajuddin took the charge of the caretaker government in Bangladesh but he made him a controversial president by his partisan action; he has hard time distinguishing right from wrong. The caretaker government should maintain neutrality, which had been the case in last two elections, but Yajuddin Ahmed being an ardent supporter of BNP has already made him a controversial head of the government. Stay tuned for more political and administrative gaffe that will unfold in days ahead. This educationist who prides in being in academia for his entire life is making errors in judgment only because he is reading from prepared script written by his party. Every time he meets Khaleda Zia for a meeting he changes his position abruptly on issues that has bearing on election outcome.

One could only hope that Yajuddin Ahmed show good judgment at this critical juncture and steer the nation for a fair election. Whether that will happen or not is unknown. Based on his political acumen if he listens to his advisors, he may go down in the history of Bangladesh as a caretaker chief who performed well on the face of a lot of political pressure or if he bungles then his epitaph would say that this is the man who crumbled on the weight of partisanship.

On a personal note, I had the chance to meet Yajuddin several times as a student during 1966-67 when he was a young professor visiting Mymensingh as an external examiner in soil science. It never crossed my mind that forty years later this man�s action could seal the fate of a party that looted billions of dollars from both public and private funds. If my memory serves me right, Yajuddin was a Muslim Leaguer who was taught by Dr. M.O. Ghani, another ardent supporter of General Ayub Khan and an odious Muslim Leaguer by the name Monem Khan of Mymensingh. Did Mr. Yajuddin join Bangladesh�s liberation movement in 1971? Not that I know of. But how ironical it is that this ex-Muslim Leaguer by the luck of a draw has become the man of the moment. Yajuddin owes it to Khaleda Zia for his rapid ascendancy to national scene. And like a fawner he is showing his obsequiousness rather blatantly and thereby plunging the nation into a quagmire from which a rescue would be difficult. Let us all hope that the ten-member advisors would work as a team to thwart his partisan action.


About the author: Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans , USA