Speakers at the regional dialogue on “National Dialogue 2007: Civil Society Initiative for Accountable Development” held in Rangpur (July 15, 2006) called upon the people to launch a united national campaign for ensuring enrolment in the voter list and people’s right to vote.
They urged the people to form citizens’ committee at every locality for the purpose.
Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) organised the dialogue with the collaboration of The Daily Star, the Prothom Alo and Channel i as part of a civil society initiative for fair elections and accountable development.
The local level leaders should create pressure on their party high-ups for nominating honest, dedicated and competent candidates in the upcoming elections, the speakers said, adding that those who have been in the politics for long, sacrificing and have contribution for the area should get nomination.
The participants in the dialogue also stressed the need for continuation of the civil society initiative beyond the next general election.
They also demanded resignation of the chief election commissioner and members of the commission, preparing proper voter lists and bringing massive reforms in the Election Commission and election system.
The benefit of the country’s economic growth over the last fifteen years did not reach the grass roots level people and the dream for an equitable, democratic and non-communal society could not be achieved, they said.
“The very concept of the caretaker government and the provision of appointing technocrat minister should be cancelled immediately for the development of democratic norms in the country,” said advocate AEM Sarwar-ul-Alam Dudu, special guest at the dialogue.
If election is held under an elected government, the government would be much more responsible, he said, adding that appointing a technocrat minister is against the norms of democracy.
Politics has been difficult for the politicians due to lack of confidence on each other, he said.
He demanded salary cut of the parliament members for remaining absent from the parliament.
Sarwar also demanded stoppage of calling hartal as it brings tremendous difficulties for the common people.
Presided over by renowned educationist Prof Reza Shah Towfiqur Rahman, the dialogue was also addressed by former member of caretaker government Hafizuddin Khan, former president of Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) Laila Rahman Kabir, editor of the Daily Star Mahfuz Anam, and prominent politician Mohammad Afzal.
Local leaders of various political parties, professionals, lawyers, teachers, representatives of local government, NGO workers, social and cultural activists also participated in the lively dialogue and expressed their views on bringing reforms in the existing political and election system.
In his presidential address, Prof Reza Shah Towfiqur Rahman said in the present day world there is no alternative to democratic form of government and the civil society is trying to help flourish democracy in the country.
People expect that the politicians also would be civil, he said, adding that otherwise the discrepancy among the people will not lessen and democracy will not survive.
He expressed hope that the civil society’s continuous work for betterment of the society will help to resolve the crises.
He said people have no confidence on the present EC and its chief. “It is not possible to hold a free and fair election under this commission,” he said.
He regretted that there are no fixed criteria for appointment in the EC and that in the present system the government can appoint anybody the chief of the EC. “As a result, the ruling party has appointed the chief election commissioner according to its choice which is contrary to democracy,” he explained.
Ruling BNP leader Ashraf Hossain urged the dialogue organisers to make the initiative a social movement and regretted that foreign diplomats often interfere in the country’s politics.
The campaign for honest and competent candidates should not end with the 2007 elections, rather it should continue for all elections including those at the local levels, he said.
The BNP leader observed that everybody, including high commands of the political parties, should come under constructive criticism. He urged the media to earn people’s confidence and guide the politicians.
Laila Rahman Kabir, former president of MCCI, called upon the people to progress the social and economic trends that have been persisting in the country for the last 15 years.
Explaining the motives of the dialogue, she said the views expressed in the discussion will be reflected in a vision paper and hoped that the government will follow that.
She said the continuation of democracy during the last 15 years is a great achievement for the country and hoped that the country will overcome the existing political deadlock as there is a very active civil society.
She regretted that none of the previous governments could carry out their constitutional responsibilities. “We lost some core areas of democratic practice,” she observed.
Debapriya Bhattacharya said mere reforms in the EC and caretaker government system might not bring any positive result for development, democracy and good governance in the country.
Reform in the political parties is a must for these, he said, adding, “Leadership of the political parties will remain confined within corrupt and dishonest people if the political parties are not reformed.”
Describing the present EC as ineffective, he said people cannot rely on it for its recent activities in connection with preparing the voter list.
Mahfuz Anam called upon the country’s civil society to be conscious so that eligible voters are not left out of the voter list.
He said the civil society is not a political party but it has the right to make the political parties accountable, transparent and pro-people.
He observed that those who questioned the right of the civil society are actually trying to snatch people’s democratic right.
The Daily Star editor urged people to be involved in the activities regarding the preparation of the voter list and launch a nationwide movement for encouraging everybody to be listed in the voter list.
Lauding CPD, Prothom Alo, The Daily Star and Channel i for organising dialogues across the country, Abdur Rouf Manik, chairman of Rangpur municipality, said the honest and patriotic ones must replace the corrupt and crooked leaders.
Most of the politicians are out to make a quick buck and therefore, it is unrealistic to expect them to work for the development of the country, he observed.
Manik also stressed on the need for the political leaders of proper education being nominated for the next election.
He suggested that the political parties should not nominate anyone who has not been involved in politics for at least five years.
Rangpur Chamber of Commerce and Industries President Mostafa Azad Choudhury said reforms of the political parties are essential for the parliamentary democracy to sustain in the country.
He said the businessmen should do business, not politics.
Political parties must be registered by the Election Commission, otherwise, accountability and transparency of those cannot be ensured, Choudhury added.
Vice-president of Rangpur unit Sammilito Sangskritik Jote Dr Mafizul Islam Mantu said the student politics these days are dominated by violence and musclemen. It is unfortunate for the country that the student leaders are not even students anymore, he added.
“We need to change the existing culture of the politics for the sake of future of the nation,” he noted.
Criticising the role of foreign envoys in country’s politics, he said, “Politicians cannot stand suggestions from the civil society, whereas they seem very tolerant towards dictates from the foreign diplomats.”
Imrul Kaes Moniruzzaman, director (Social Empowerment) of Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS), described the civil society initiative for accountable development as a step taken too late to be effective for the election 2007.
He said, “They [civil society] should have waged the campaign for honest and patriotic candidates much earlier.”
Advocate MA Bashar Tipu, vice-president of Begum Rokeya Forum, said, “Politicians play pro-people just before the election. They talk in such a fashion as if they believe in people’s power, but as soon as they are elected, they trample the rights of those very people.”
BNP Rangpur district unit General Secretary Habibunnabi Khan Sohel, Shushwasaner Jonno Nagorik Rangpur unit President Mukul Mostafiz, Awami Swechhasebak League district Convener Moazzem Hossain, Jatiya Party district unit Vice-President Syed Noor Ahmed Tulu, General Secretary of Bangladesh Mohila Awami League Rosy Rahman, JATIYA Samajtantrik Dal district unit President Dr Ekramul Haque Swapan, Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal Rangpur unit President Abdul Quddus, Central committee member of Bangladesh Workers Party Nazrul Islam Haqqani, Tapan Chaterjee, among others, participated in the discussion.