Speakers at a regional dialogue in Faridpur (August 12, 2006) demanded incorporation of local causes in the election manifestos of political parties.
They also demanded reforms in the Election Commission, resignation of the chief election commissioner, raising the number of reserved seats for women in parliament and direct election to those seats.
The speakers also urged the people to raise their voice against black money holders and demanded nomination of honest and competent candidates in the next general election.
They also demanded protection of Faridpur town from river erosion.
They said the concept of caretaker government emerged only due to lack of confidence of politicians in each other. The sooner the system goes, the better it is for democracy as well as for the country, they observed.
The speakers regretted issuance of arrest warrants against five eminent citizens and criticised the government for harassing them.
Independent research organisation Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) organised the day-long dialogue jointly with The Daily Star, the Prothom Alo and the Channel i at a hotel in the district town.
This was the 11th such dialogue as part of a civil society campaign for honest and competent candidates in the election 2007 and accountable development.
CPD Executive Director Debapriya Bhattacharya conducted the dialogue with prominent educationist Prof A N M Abdus Sobhan in the chair. A large number of people including politicians, lawyers, teachers, NGO leaders, students, social workers and cultural activists attended the dialogue and participated in discussion.
Educationist Azizul Haque Khan and Advocate Fazlul Haque were special guests at the dialogue while Editor of the Prothom Alo Motiur Rahman spoke on behalf of the organisers.
Former adviser to caretaker government S M Shajahan and former finance minister M Syeduzzaman took part in the discussion on behalf of the Nagorik Committee 2006, formed for preparing a vision paper for Bangladesh in 2021.
Prof Abdus Sobhan underscored the need for bringing qualitative changes in politics. Qualitative changes are required in politics, particularly in the major political parties. The country would not develop until the civil society cooperates in the initiative to bring such changes, he said.
He thought intellectuals in the country are divided into major two groups, siding with the Awami League or the BNP.
According to him, the civil society should speak impartially. Honest and progressive sections in political parties should also come forward to bring constructive changes within their parties.
Azizul Haque Khan said if the civil society continues its initiative for accountable development, a prosperous Bangladesh could be a reality by 2021.
The concept of non-political organisations should be changed as everything is related to politics, he felt.
Fazlul Haque said a caretaker government can take account of wealth and property of candidates in polls, if it wishes. It can also separate the judiciary from the executive. “There is no legal barrier to it.”
Haque said though the country is not a failed state, the government has failed.
Politicians go to power in the name of democracy but they kill democracy after going to power, he said.
He warned against political rehabilitation of a deposed military ruler.
Motiur Rahman expressed concern about the next general election.
He also protested the issuance of arrest warrants against five eminent citizens following a case filed by an adviser to a ministry.
The Prothom Alo editor said the people want Bangladesh to be developed as a true democratic nation.
On the objectives of the dialogue, Motiur Rahman said the civil society wants to improve the country’s image in the international arena.
Khadiza Begum of Bangladesh Mohila Parishad demanded more reserved seats for women in parliament and direct election to the seats. She also urged the major political parties to increase nomination of women candidates.
Prof Altaf Hossain demanded a healthy education system by 2021.
There is no alternative to democracy, but the citizens are very worried about its future in the country, he said, adding, “Now democracy is being used only for capturing power.”
M Syeduzzaman, former finance minister and also a member of Nagorik committee, said the main objective of the dialogue is to create awareness among the people about their civil rights.
He said the country achieved tremendous growth in export earning, remittance collection and GDP in the last one and a half decade but the benefit of the economic development did not properly reach the grass-roots level.
“We have much more to do as 40 per cent people are still below the poverty level.”
The constitution ensures political rights of every citizen, but the democratic process has been disturbed in Bangladesh on several occasions, he said, adding that the politicians will have to come forward to solve the political crises.
Black money holders have dominated politics, Shah Mohammad Abu Zafar MP, a prominent politician of the district, said.
The black money holders are lobbying for nomination while the politicians are running for money to contest the next general elections, he said.
Urging the civil society members to campaign for the honest candidates who will get nomination from the major political parties, he said people should vote for the candidates, not for the party symbol.
Zafar also proposed enacting a law prohibiting publication of posters and leaflets as part of election campaign to reduce election expenditure.
Member of Awami League Central Advisory Committee SM Nurunnabi said the black money holders have taken away politics. He urged the civil society members to go to the villages and mix with common people.
Advocate Modarres Ali Isha, general secretary of district BNP, said the civil society initiative would not continue for long if it is initiated to serve any quarters. He also criticised terming a people’s representative ‘razakar’.
Demanding massive reforms in the Election Commission for a free and fair election, President of Faridpur district Awami League Quazi Joinul Abedin said the election cannot be free and fair with the existing chief election commissioner.
Abedin demanded an education system free from discrimination, saying that students from outside the capital cannot score good results under the existing education system.
Former principal of Government Rajendra College Kamal Ataur Rahman proposed formation of a national government where all political parties will have share on the basis of seats in parliament.
If this system is introduced, there would be no hartal or political siege programme in the country and the country will run peacefully at least for five years, he added.
Demanding government’s initiatives for protecting Faridpur from river erosion, freedom fighter MA Salam Lalmian said the money wasted in the Local Government Engineering Department through corruption was enough to prevent the river erosion.
The politicians spend huge amount of money during elections and so nothing is left for the poor people, Waliur Rahman Khan of Fema said. He urged the major political parties to nominate honest and dedicated candidates.
He also suggested bringing the dialogue up to the upazila level.
Rabeya Ahmed, a mother of two myrtars, urged the people to work for the welfare of the society.
The politicians change their attitude after being elected, Faridpur Press Club President Munshi Harunur Rashid said, adding that the present political situation makes people lose respect for the politicians.
He expressed the hope that the politicians will start practising democracy within their parties.
Opposing any provision of reserved seats for women in parliament, Shipra Goswami said they should contest from all 300 constituencies.
Syed Shahid Reza Biplob demanded an acceptable election with participation of all political parties.
The politicians increase their wealth through politics, advocate Shahana Shoily said.
She wondered at the political parties’ reluctance to register as political organisations.
ATM Amir Ali, editor of a local weekly, urged the civil society members to identify the black money holders before the elections.
Among others who participated in the discussion were: Advocate Shahidunnabi, Abul Fayez Shanewaj, Forkan Ahmed khan, Asma Akhter Mukta, poet Kochi Reza, Mehedi Hasan Shoeb, Rafiquzzaman Layek, advocate Shamsunnahar, Monoj Saha, Khondoker Saidur Rahim Bitul, Mosharraf Hossain, Bashir Ahmed Chowdhury, Abdul Ali Shikder, Murad Hossain, Monoranjan Bosh, Ivy Masud, Altaf Mahmud, Suresh Chandra Halder, Ashraf Ali, Nasreen Sultana, Iva Mojumder, Suprya Datta, Quazi Mosharraf Hossain, Khan Mahbubur Rahman, Golam Faruq Howlader, Noor Mohammad, Fakir Abdur Rashid, Mohammad Ali Rumi, Sheikh Mohammad Feroz, Mohammad Haider, Mohammad Delwar Hossain, and Khondoker Monjur Elahi.