One person roiling the entire nation through his antics!

 A.H. Jaffor Ullah

Published on February 13, 2007

The last eighty days had been nightmarish for the 145 million people of Bangladesh. A pall of gloom hung over Bangladesh as President Iajuddin sat at the helm making one mistake after another. Thanks to the free press that kept people�s hope and aspiration alive.

I never thought that I would live to see Bangladesh�s politics roiled so badly by the action of a lone person. Ever since President Iajuddin self-appointed him to be the chief of the executive branch of Bangladesh�s government by becoming the Chief Advisor of the caretaker government in late October 2006, the country had a rough and bumpy ride. Many constitutional experts in Bangladesh had opined that Iajuddin�s ascension to power in autumn could not be supported by the constitution of the land. But then, many things in Bangladesh do not go right.

The main opposition party and its alliance had reluctantly accepted Iajuddin�s self-appointment hoping that he would maintain his neutrality as he and 10-member committee of advisors would prepare and steer the nation for a fair election within the next 90 days. The caretaker government would cease to exist once a new government would be in office and a new parliament convenes in Dhaka.

Iajuddin and his advisors could have fulfilled their duties facilely had he charted a neutral course. Unfortunately, he did not do that. From the day one he was indecisive and looking for direction from outside. He hardly sat in a meeting with his advisors in the first week. Finally, when he did his advisors took some decision regarding the appointment of few key members in the Election Commission but then he reversed the course pronto. At one time he kept his advisors in the dark while mobilizing the military. That irked a few of his advisors. This vacillation in decision making went on for the first 3 weeks. From the president�s action it was very clear that he was not offering any solution but he became a part of the massive problem.

After few weeks when it became abundantly clear that he was playing a partisan game while seating at the catbird seat of power in Dhaka, the four brightest and very best advisors tendered their resignation while lamenting that they cannot serve the nation under him. Before the ink of their resignation letters could dry, Iajuddin appointed four advisors of whom two were deeply involved in partisan politics.

Iajuddin gave a lip service to Election Commission reform � a demand from the opposition, while adamantly he said that the election would take place as scheduled on January 22, 2007. The opposition cried foul by pointing out that the voter�s list was antiquated and filled with fake names. They pressed their demand to correct the voter�s list and make it up-to-date. However, President Iajuddin turned a deaf ear to this legitimate demand of the opposition parties. All these inactions by Iajuddin made his party, BNP, utterly happy but the main opposition, AL, and its alliance of 17 parties decided to boycott the election. In cahoots with Iajuddin the EC also played a very dirty role as they briefed the newsman telling them that the election would take place on January 22, 2007 rain or shine.

Thanks heaven that a host of donor nations including USA, EU, Great Britain, and UN, all pleaded to Iajuddin not to hold the election without correcting the voter�s list and without the participation of major political parties. In the meantime, Sheikh Hasina, the leader of the opposition gave her clarion call for boycotting the one-sided election slated for January 22, 2007. True to his character Iajuddin was nonchalant; without realizing the consequence of this rogue election he dug his heel and a bunch of sycophants in the civil administration and Election Commission who are loyal to BNP were too anxious to hold the election.

As the political landscape in Bangladesh was mired by Iajuddin�s inaction, the nation saw a looming danger threatening to engulf the nation with conflagration. The nonchalant president remained calm for he thought he had one last trump card buried in his sleeve. In the beginning of 2007 the president played his card and brought in army in the street to save the nation from agitation and chaos created by no one but him. Thanks to foreign diplomats who exerted pressure on Iajuddin advising him to postpone the one-sided election.

Iajuddin being a na�ve politician was in real trouble by the end of the first week of January 2007. The framers of Bangladesh constitution never thought that a constitutional crisis would emerge due to the failure of the caretaker government to hold an election within 90 days after coming to office. There was only one way out. Declare the emergency. That is what he did. And to placate him from the trouble he removed himself from the seat of the power. He is now holding the seat of president, a ceremonial power. The real power now belongs to the chief advisor who was the senior-most person among the 10-member advisors of the caretaker government. The rest resigned. We read in the newspaper that 10 new advisors will be appointed soon and the entire process of conducting a fair election would start in earnest.

Now that Iajuddin is far removed from the executive branch of the government let us all hope that a neutral caretaker government would steward the nation for a fair and neutral election. But before that could happen they should fire everyone at the Election Commission, appoint a new set of officers at the EC, correct the voter�s list, and give enough time for all parties to participate in the election.

How difficult would it be for the acting head of the caretaker government to jumpstart the process? That remains to be seen. I see a new beginning here. Who says a lone person cannot screw up things in a nation of 145 million? It was a good riddance of Iajuddin from the executive branch of the government. His name will surely grace the wall of the �Hall of Shame.�


Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah, a researcher and columnist, writes from New Orleans