Acting on the recommendation of the Search Committee constituted to suggest names for appointment to the Election Commission, President Zillur Rehman has appointed a new Chief Election Commissioner and four Election Commissioners. A former secretary to the government, Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed has taken over as the CEC and the four EC include one former army officer, two former civil servants and one former district and sessions judge. The ruling Awami League welcomed the appointments even though it claimed that none of the names suggested by them had been chosen by the Search Committee. And true to form, the main opposition party BNP not only rejected the names (which they claimed were AL lackeys) but also questioned the legality of the Search Committee.
A senior BNP leader called the Search Committee a ‘stage-managed drama’ and added that the party will simply not accept any election until it is conducted by a neutral and non-political caretaker government. BNP chief Khaleda Zia reiterated her party’s stand on the issue of the caretaker government by not only insisting upon a non-party and neutral caretaker government but also rejecting any caretaker government which has nominees from all political parties. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has however rejected the BNP chiefs demand and said that while there was no question of restoring the caretaker government system, even if the system was restored, it would not hold any guarantee that elections would be held. She also took a potshot at her rival by warning her that it was entirely possible that a caretaker government might send her to jail and hang her sons for their crimes. Meanwhile, in his farewell address, the outgoing CEC said that free and fair elections could take place under a political government provided the EC was empowered and given the necessary authority to ensure a clean election.
Khaleda Zia appeared before a court last week in connection with a case of abuse of authority in setting up of the Zia Charitable Trust. While she received bail from the court in this particular case, another court has summoned her along with her son Tarique Rehman and other accused on March 18 in a case of corruption involving the Zia Orphanage Trust. Even as she defends herself in the corruption cases filed against her, she has become even more strident in her opposition of the government. Blaming the AL government for the deaths of BNP party workers in police firing last week, she told a party gathering that there was no way that the BNP would allow the government to stay in power anymore but also added that it will be ousted only through a peaceful and democratic movement.
Senior members of the government and alliance partners in the ruling coalition have alleged that the Jamaat Islami was laundering money to recruit lobbyists against the war crimes trials. The Workers Party president, Rashed Menon, has alleged that a senior Jamaat Islami leader had spent $ 25 million to get a lobby firm in the US to lobby against the trials. Law Minister Shafique Ahmed has said that the government will investigate these allegations and if proven, the guilty persons will be prosecuted under the money laundering act.
The AL general secretary has claimed that a attack on the PM or the government would be planned in London. Though he hasn’t pointed fingers at anyone in particular, it is generally understood that he was probably alluding to the Islamists in London who had plotted the failed coup and perhaps could also have been referring to the nexus between them and the BNP chief’s son who is currently in London for medical treatment. As for the failed coup, two arrested former officers have disclosed the entire conspiracy and operational plan of the aborted putsch in their confessional statements filed in the court. According to the plot, ‘an army brigade would surround Dhaka cantonment, Bangabhaban and the Gonobhaban, and force the president to dismiss the government and announce a new one’ which would be headed by Ishraq Ahmed, the main conspirator. Meanwhile, addressing a conference of Generals of the Bangladesh Army, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina lauded the Bangladesh Army for foiling the coup plot and said that any conspiracy to derail democracy needed to be ‘crushed with full force’.
Relations with India
Answering a question in the Jatiya Sangsad, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina dismissed all talk of the AL following a policy of ‘appeasing’ India and launched a counter offensive on her political rivals (mainly Khaleda Zia but also her ally, Gen HM Ershad) whom she accused of surrendering Bangladesh’s national interests to India when they were in power. Comparing their failure to settle any of the long standing issues between with India with her government’s success in addressing most of these issues, Hasina said that the AL never compromised on Bangladesh’s national interests. Almost as if she wanted to prove a point, Sheikh Hasina cancelled her visit to Kolkata to attend the convocation ceremony of the Calcutta University. There is speculation that the visit was cancelled as a sign of Bangladesh’s displeasure with the West Bengal chief minister for having played spoiler in the matter of settling the Teesta waters sharing dispute between India and Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh media has reported that the government of Bangladesh has decided to scrap four road building projects that were to be funded under the $ 1 billion credit line given to Bangladesh by India. These four projects – upgradation of Sarail-Brahmanbaria-Akhaura-Senarbadi landport road, development of Barayarhat-Heanko-Ramgarh-Sabrum landport connecting road, improvement of Lalmonirhat-Burimari landport road and construction of overpass at Jurain rail crossing – expected to cost around $ 150 million have become victim to the provision requiring that 80% of the procurement for any project being funded by the credit line be sourced from India.