Reuter's Anis Ahmad says the Bangladesh military would continue to muscle its power even after the election. Read the story here:
By Anis AhmedDHAKA, Dec 18 (Reuters) - Pro-democracy advocates hope the Bangladesh military will fade from politics after this month's election, but that may only happen when and if the new government proves more stable and less corrupt than its predecessors.Army generals ruling with iron fists dominated Bangladesh from 1975 to 1990, taking power in sometimes violent and sometimes bloodless coups. Almost two years ago they re-entered the political fray, assuming a prominent role in the self-styled "interim authority" that is due to step aside for a new civilian government after the Dec. 29 parliamentary election.
Human rights groups and Western diplomats worry the military will be reluctant to stay away from politics for long, upsetting a transition to stable democracy that could help the country of more than 140 million attract investment, reduce massive poverty, and cut its dependence on foreign aid.The "vote and an end to emergency rule do not equal democracy but are necessary preconditions to the country's stability," the well-respected Brussels-based International Crisis Group saidearlier this month.
But it went on to warn: "The political situation is complex and fragile. Regardless of who wins the election, the next government and the opposition parties will face the challenges of making parliament work and contending with an army that wants a greater say in politics."The army says that isn't so.Army chief General Moeen U. Ahmed said this week he and his troops were "happy to return to the barracks after accomplishing a task they were assigned to", referring to implementing the interim government's policies and helping organise and provide security for the election.The army-backed interim authority took power amidst violence and political turmoil in January 2007, cancelling an election and instituting emergency rule that suspended many civil rights. Retired generals held key posts in the cabinet and bodies like the Anti-Corruption Commission and Election Commission.
AID AND PEACEKEEPING: Moeen said the military had no intention of taking state power after the election, and would focus on aiding civilians and international peacekeeping.Noting how the military brought relief and saved lives last year when floods and a deadly cyclone hit the low-lying country, Moeen said: "We wish to keep doing so for all times to come."Help to civilians by the army -- one of the few efficient government bodies in the country -- in natural disasters has given it a favourable image among many common people despite what critics see as a sometimes cavalier attitude toward human rights.
Shahidul Islam, a university student, said: "When disasters sweep Bangladesh, we see the army troops rushing with help, while the politicians spend time on planning or sharing booty."But that does not justify that the army takes the role of the politicians."Abroad, Bangladesh's military has won respect as peacekeepers, something of which it is proud and which has earned the country, one of the world's poorest, much needed revenue.Bangladesh now has 9,700 troops in U.N. missions around the world, the second largest contribution after Pakistan, and earns on average about $200 million from the deployments every year, much of that in the form of pay for army officers and enlisted men over and above what they would receive at home."Any attempt by the army to be directly involved in politics would threaten their jobs with the U.N. peacekeeping missions," said Sirajul Islam Chowdhury, a former Dhaka University teacher and political analyst. "They probably don't want this."
CAN ARMY STAY AWAY?Despite such considerations and Moeen's assurances, many tend to believe the army, though possibly trying to stay behind the scenes and keep a low profile, will unlikely stay out of government and politics for long.That's not necessarily to do with a lust for power but because democratically elected governments keep getting it wrong.Civilian governments dominated between 1991 and the end of 2006. But the period was marked by turbulence, street violence, reluctance of losers to accept election results, and endemic corruption, while economic and social achievements were minimal.
And the leading candidates to be prime minister after December's vote are the two women who alternated in the post in those uneasy years -- Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League and Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party. They, themselves, have been charged with graft and abuse of power by the interim government. That may explain why the ICG warned the politicians not to assume too much about international backing.The "parties must not take the international community's support for elections as an endorsement of their behaviour but rather see it as belated recognition of the dangers of military rule,"the ICG said.A reversion to old habits by the parties is likely to mean the military keeps intervening, said a senior Bangladeshi official who asked not to be identified."They will keep doing so until politicians overcome their weaknesses and are able to install a strong government."