The BNP and Jamaat must be kept out of politics and Article 70 of the constitution can be amended to allow MPs to vote according to their will except for the government’s stability and the Finance Bill, the information minister Hasanul Haq Inu, also president of a faction of the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal faction, tells Shahiduzzaman in an interview with New Age
New Age: Do you think that the next general elections are going to be inclusive, with all political parties actively taking part? What are the prime conditions for making elections inclusive?
Hasanul Haq Inu: According to the electoral laws, all registered political parties are entitled to participate in the elections. So by the law, elections to the national parliament are always inclusive and no political party is debarred from taking part in the elections. There is no law that does not allow any political party to participate in the elections.
If a particular party does not participate in elections or boycotts elections, it raises a question about the participatory process. But it is seen in Bangladesh that in the name of inclusiveness, convicted criminals and war criminals or politicians charged with serious offences do bargain for their unconditional release before the elections. So, in the name of creating a level playing field, convicted and indicted political leaders with criminal and terrorist past are asking to participate in the elections. This proposal is tantamount to disregarding the judicial process and throwing back the country into the culture of impunity and injustice. So, in the name of inclusiveness, allowing war criminals, killers and corrupt people to participate in the political and electoral process will only damage democratic values.
New Age: Do you think that there would be a violence-free environment in and around polling stations, enabling voters to exercise their right to franchise freely? What are the conditions to create a congenial political atmosphere in which people would feel free to vote for candidates of their choice?
Hasanul Haq Inu: In the past 10 years, all local government elections, according to the Bangladeshi standards, were almost violence-free. Many political parties participated in all these elections. Except for a few stray incidents, which happened here and there, the elections were peaceful and free of violence. Now, the administration is more or less capable of managing violence that comes out from rivalry between candidates, but organised political violence initiated from the top leaderships has always been a threat to the electoral process, which we have seen in the 2014 general elections. But now the situation is more or less peaceful and we do not foresee any rivalry-based violence by candidates. And terrorist organisations have now hardly any capability to initiate an organised violence in and around polling stations and booths. It is possibly not possible for them. So, we do not expect any serious situation in the elections. The administration is aware of what happened in the past. So, the elections would be violence-free.
New Age: Elections are, indeed, primary conditions for democracy. What, in your view, are the other factors that make democratic practice meaningful?
Hasanul Haq Inu: Well, democracy is nothing but the rule of law. Democracy works within a set of rules and parameters. So, sometimes it is said that democracy is the rule of institutions. If you judge the development of democracy in a country, you have to look into the institutions such as the judiciary, the parliament, the executive, the mass media and all necessary watchdog institutions. How independently and vibrantly these institutions act shows the level of democracy of a country.
In Bangladesh, the constitution has helped us to develop these institutions. But, democracy has always been a developing paradigm. In my definition, democracy is a soft bed with a beautiful mosquito net where you can see everything but no mosquito or insect can enter. Over the past 10 years, the prime minister Sheikh Hasina has initiated a process of democratisation of the whole political system. For an example, parliamentary standing committees have been strengthened; and the National Human Rights Commission and the Information Commission have been set up. The judiciary has been made fully independent, separating the judicial magistracy from the executive. Other watchdog institutions are also now in place. Necessary amendments have been made to the laws. The mass media have bloomed. Especially, we have made all arrangement for the mass media, including television, radio, community radio, online news portals and newspapers in the private sector, to flourish. A significant development, by way of all this, has been made in the past 10 years to strengthen democratic practice.
We now practise democracy after passing through a repressive era of the martial law, autocracy and militancy after 1975. So we are now in the phase of transition to democracy based on the spirit of the struggle for independence, overcoming the repressive era of martial law, autocracy and militancy. We now need to clear the spots that militancy, autocracy and the martial law left in laws and institutions. We need to develop the laws and institutions. We need to ensure poverty reduction for economic emancipation for prosperity. With these three challenges, Sheikh Hasina started her journey in 2009. The BNP and Jamaat clique continue to hinder this journey.
In the past 10 years, in order to break the culture of impunity and injustice, Sheikh Hasina’s government took many risky steps. Legal action has been taken against the killers of Bangabandhu and the killers of four national leaders. War crimes trials continue. The trial of the August 21 grenade attack has been completed. This initiative can in no way be considered taking revenge on the opponents. The killers of 1971, 1975, August 21, killers in arson attacks, corrupt people, terrorists and militants have all been tried in open court, giving them every scope for self defence in long 10 years. The BNP and Jamaat clique conspired to foil this initiative. They made no proposal for economic or democratic reforms. They have been busy only stopping war crimes trials and protecting the killers. The BNP has neither discarded Jamaat, even in the face of criticism, nor severed relations with the convicted and executed war criminals. It even did not condemn the extremist attacks and rather tried to protect the extremists. So the BNP became the shelter of all killers, extremists, corrupt people, terrorists and militants. The BNP is a ‘poison tree’ in politics which is destroying the democratic norms. So, it gets down to the question whether the BNP and Jamaat would continue in the politics. The musical chair game with the government of the pro-liberation forces and anti-liberation forces is destroying the democratic system. The BNP does not believe in the first proclamation of independence, the father of the nation, four fundamental principles of the state, the figure of the three million martyrs and genocide by Pakistanis. The BNP has become a terrorist party under the leadership of Khaleda and Tarique. But, unfortunately it is still a registered political party and plays role in politics and elections. So the BNP and Jamaat must be kept out of power. They should be kept out of politics. There is no scope for any compromise with the BNP and Jamaat clique. Those who campaign for compromise with Jamaat and the BNP, in fact, campaign for the protection of the evil forces. This compromise is suicidal for politics. It is a hard task to keep them out of politics. But if you want to make democratic practices meaningful, the BNP and Jamaat clique must be kept out of politics.
New Age: Bangladesh’s constitution allows ‘electoral autocracy’ in that it provides the scope for a single person to head the state’s executive as well as legislative branches, leaving scope to influence the judiciary. Don’t you think that just credible elections are not enough, under such constitutional regime, to move towards democratic governance?
Hasanul Haq Inu: According to the constitution, the cabinet is collectively accountable to the parliament. The parliament does not depend on one person. Law are passed by votes. The prime minister is not the supreme boss. S/he is one of the equals — the first among the equals. In the cabinet, no where it is written that the prime minister’s decision is the final. The cabinet collectively decides proceedings and decisions. So, it is not electoral autocracy or constitutional autocracy. Bangladesh is following the parliamentary system. The same is true for the parliament. Members of parliament decide everything by vote. Certain reforms, however, can be made for the furtherance of the democratic practices.
New Age: What kind of constitutional reforms would you propose to democratise the state’s constitution and governance?
Hasanul Haq Inu: There are certain institutions that can be developed. The office of the ombudsman can be established, parliamentary standing committees may be made open to the public and the press. Article 70 of the constitution can be partially amended to allow members of parliament to vote according to their will in all law-making process, except for the stability of the government and the Finance Bill.
New Age: Successive governments — elected, half-elected or unelected — have always been busy making all kinds of efforts, legal and extralegal, to make people accountable to the state and the government. How could the state and the governments be made accountable to people?
Hasanul Haq Inu: The state and the government are always accountable to the people. The executive is always accountable to the judiciary and the parliament. The parliament oversees the executive. The judiciary always scrutinises and takes care of any lapses or beyond-the-law activities of the executive. So, it is a system of checks and balances.
Moreover, vibrant mass media are responsible for the public scrutiny of government functions.
Digitisation is making the administrative process more transparent and accountable. So, digitisation is helping us to develop a more accountable and transparent administrative network. Apart from that, the Information Commission, the Law Commission and the Human Rights Commission need to be further activated. In the case of law-making, all ministries and parliamentary committees need to have constant dialogues with all stakeholders.
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