Friday, May 1, 2009

Reversing military intervention in Bangladesh through constitutional means

Sharing a thought-provoking editorial in New Age which calls for constitutional measures to stop future military intervention in our politics.

Mere rhetoric won’t pre-empt military intervention
The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, said on Tuesday that Bangladesh could not attain the desired level of development yet as military and military-backed forces have ruled the country frequently in the past with disregard for people’s welfare. We find a strong point in her observation made, while addressing the two-day inaugural ceremony of the Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre silver-jubilee celebrations in the BPATC conference centre at Savar.

We have repeatedly argued, particularly during the two-year tenure of the last military-controlled interim government of Fakhruddin Ahmed, that truly representative democracy and the rule of law are prerequisites for sustainable and equitable development of the country. Authoritarianism, elected or unelected, only leads to the confiscation the people’s fundamental rights and reduces both transparency and accountability, which in turn leads to greater abuse of power by authoritarian regimes that adversely affects people’s welfare.

Now that the prime minister has hit the nail on the head with her observation, we feel that her government should follow it up with steps to ensure that no room or scope is given to apolitical and anti-democratic forces to usurp state power in future. There are two ways to do this in our view. First, the major political parties and forces in our country must not only become more internally democratic but also change their undemocratic pattern of behaviour towards each other.

If the major political forces can establish a democratic culture in politics, that will act as a major deterrence to the usurpation of power by the military, in the first place. The military, after all, has most of the time used either civilian authoritarianism or political confrontations between feuding parties to seize state power. However, to avoid political confrontation, we believe that the political alliance in power, and particularly the Awami League, which leads that alliance, should take the initiative and lead by example.

Unfortunately, though the Awami League promised change as its principal electoral pledge prior to the December general elections, the way the party and its front organisations have behaved since the elections suggest that the party is determined to continue with the confrontational politics of the past. And second, the government should use its overwhelming majority in parliament to amend the country’s constitution to make any unconstitutional usurpation of power a grave criminal offence. We believe that the scope for the past military and pseudo-military dictators to usurp state powers and to get away with such usurpation has set a terrible precedent, which only encourages such unwanted interventions into the political process.

This must be reversed through making such usurpations a punishable offence, and the punishment prescribed by law must be sufficiently stern for it to act as an effective deterrent. Several politicians, academics and jurists have also suggested that the government should incorporate such a provision into the constitution and we believe that it is high time that the government gave the matter due consideration.

If the government of Sheikh Hasina is serious about pre-empting potential military interventions of the future, it must do what is necessary to achieve that objective. Deterrence will require determined political and constitutional actions, not mere rhetoric. We shall wait to see whether the prime minister has the will to back up her words with actions.