Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Two more terms for Sheikh Hasina?
"As I See It"column
The Indepenent
June 23rd., 2012
M. Serajul Islam

A senior AL party leader has said something unbelievable. He said that Sheikh Hasina should continue as Prime Minister for 2 more terms for the sake of the country. The party official was addressing a wing of the ruling party when he made this absurd suggestion. He drew inspiration from Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohammad and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew for justifying his fond wish for his leader and his party. 

Suggestions such as this are fit to be garbaged except for the fact that the leader making this one is the unofficial spokesman of his party. Therefore what he says just cannot be trashed without trying to find out what made him make such an absurd suggestion. Recently, a group of well known individuals from the country’s cultural front with intimate connections with the ruling party had asked the people to elect the AL led by Sheikh Hasina for two more terms. 

Clearly, the two suggestions have something in common. It underscores a serious desire in a section in the ruling party  to be in government for the next terms by any means. The cultural activists at least showed some sense in suggesting that the people should do the favour to the ruling party. The senior leader has left that choice to the party itself! 

The serious issue here is not that such a suggestion would be rejected for its sheer absurdity that would no doubt happen. The serious issue is how a senior leader of the party could make the suggestion. This is the same leader who goes hoarse talking at the top of his voice on the democratic virtues of his leader and the party. Of his leader, he tells us continuously how she is the great champion of democracy. He never fails to refer to the Father of the Nation and in that context,  to tell us repeatedly that he and democracy are synonymous.  

The same political leader is now suggesting that Sheikh Hasina should remain the Prime Minister till 2024. With the opposition demanding an election under a caretaker government and the country praying on its knees that the ruling party would sit down and talk to find a resolution to the problem, the Awami League leader’s suggestion was to say the least, provocative. He seemed to suggest that the ruling party has  abandoned holding the next general elections and would  like to remain in power simply by assuming that the people wants it in power for their own interests! 

One has to wonder whether the leaders of the ruling party ever think before they talk. If they did, they would know that by talking in public the way they do, they are literally cutting the very branches of the tree where they are sitting. Even a cursory analysis of what they say would show, first, they destroy the very foundations on which they claim such glory for their party and their leaders, and, second, they end up enforcing the opposition’s demand that they must go for the sake of the country. 

In this instance, one understands and even appreciates that the political leader who said that Sheikh Hasina should remain in office till 2024 really adores his leader. It may even be true that he really believes that it is in the best interest of the country that she should continue to remain as Prime Minister for 2 more terms. It is also heartening to see that within the ruling party, this political leader is not alone in his admiration and loyalty to the Prime Minister. Such adoration of associates is indeed something that transforms an ordinary political leader to a great one. 

Unfortunately, it is not adoration and loyalty of associates that alone makes an ordinary leader a great one. Such adoration and loyalty driven to the extent that these leaders are willing enough to keep the Prime Minister in power without giving the people the chance to express themselves is what is called sycophancy. And sycophancy is what transforms a great leader to an ordinary one and paves the way for his/her exit. History, even our own one, is replete with such instances. 

There is no question that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is a leader worthy of greatness. Her lineage, being the daughter of the Father of the Nation, gives her added importance in politics. Both Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Sheikh Hasina have earned people’s love and respect through the democratic process. They never needed anyone to tell them to show their respect to them. Through the ballot, the people of Bangladesh have shown their support for Bangabandhu in the November 1970 elections and to Sheikh Hasina twice in 1996 and 2008.  

Bangladesh was born though sacrifices of hundreds of thousands of lives to give the people a country based on democracy. Even great leaders are subject to the law and the constitution in a democratic country where they can exercise political power only when people have returned them to  office. That is called the stamp of legitimacy. Without the sanction of the people expressed through the ballot, a leader loses his/her legitimacy and becomes a usurper. The legitimacy of the political leader is also determined to the extent the elections choosing him/her and the party are fair or otherwise. 

Therefore the political leader with whom I began this piece has in fact suggested that Sheikh Hasina should remain in power setting aside the democratic process. In other words, driven by sycophancy, he has suggested that his leader should remain in power if need be, illegitimately for the sake of the country! Unfortunately, he is not alone in showing such sycophancy. There are many other leaders in the ruling party who are also suggesting that Sheikh Hasina should remain in power for two more terms.  

This is what worries many in the country. There seems to be a move within the ruling party that no matter what, the AL should remain in power for two more terms. By their uncoordinated manner of talking irresponsibly in pubic, some leaders of the ruling party have given this impression very clearly and unambiguously. In a way, the suggestion of the senior leader of the AL that like Mahathir Mohammed and Lew Kuan Yew, Sheikh Hasina should remain in power for two more terms may have been made deliberately. He may have expressed his party’s intention not to hand over political power for at least two more terms under any circumstances. 

There are many in the AL who genuinely believes and for good reasons that their party is the champion of democracy notwithstanding what these sycophants say or do. They must be scratching their heads and worrying that with such people in the party, the BNP would be left with little to do for people’s favour. They are establishing on behalf of the BNP that, first, the AL has little intention of holding any credible elections, and second, if need be, it would try to remain in office without   holding elections; both dangerous propositions even to contemplate. 

The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan .

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