While visiting Germany to attend the 55th Munich Security Conference 2019, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in an interview with the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW), has indicated that she would retire once she completes the current five-year term. She has also said that it would pave the way to promote young leaders. This is Sheikh Hasina’s fourth term of premiership.
In December 2014, Sheikh Hasina paid an official visit to Malaysia for the second time during my diplomatic assignment in Malaysia. I was accompanying her while going to Putrajaya to attend the bilateral meeting to be held at the Prime Minister’s Office. During our half-an hour journey from Kuala Lumpur to Putrajaya, Hon’ble Prime Minister was telling me several issues including her desire to retire. I, with deep respect, requested her not to do that for the greater interest of the country and the people including the restoration of democracy and justice under a pro-liberation government.In this context, I would like to cite the example of Malaysia’s longest serving Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. He was the Prime Minister of Malaysia for more than 22 years from July 1981 to October 2003 under United Malays National Organisation (UMNO)-led Barisan Nasionale coalition government. He, at the age of 93, has, once again, been elected the Prime Minister of Malaysia last year from the opposition coalition that won the national election for the first time in Malaysia’s history. In 2002, Mahathir made up his mind that he would announce his resignation at that year’s UMNO Annual General Assembly. Mahathir wrote in his autobiography titled ‘A Doctor in the House’, “I planned my exit for months. Despite not telling anyone, a few friends told me not to resign. They had doubts about my successor. But I was determined to keep promise to myself. It was nevertheless a strain – the feeling was indescribable. After 21 years as Prime Minister, the step was a huge one for me as at that time. I felt I was reasonably popular.”
When Tun Mahathir announced his decision to step down from his position of Prime Minister and UMNO President at the end of his closing speech at the Annual General Assembly on 22 June 2002, people including UMNO leaders rushed to the rostrum and asked him to withdraw his decision. Delegates in the hall were shouting ‘No! No!’ and ‘Don’t resign.’ On that scenario, the UMNO leaders took Mahathir to the Presidential room next to the Assembly hall and kept him pressing to change his mind. But Mahathir remained adamant in his decision. However, finally, UMNO Deputy President Tun Abdullah (5th Prime Minister) informed him that the Assembly had rejected his resignation. Mahathir wrote, “I decided that a transition period to allow for a smooth transfer of power would be best, so the following day, I confirmed that I would stay on for another year until after the NAM and OIC meetings in Kuala Lumpur in October of 2003.”
Political leaders are not normal persons like us. People and party-men make them leaders on the basis of their leadership qualities. Once a politician is given the authority of leading the country by the people, he or she should not have any personal choice. People’s voice is his/her voice. Politicians are very much the part and parcel of the people. A people’s leader can never neglect or deny the demand or request of his people. A patriotic, honest, committed and devoted leader is not easy to find nowadays. Once a country has such a leader, that country will develop to the highest level crossing all hindrances coming from inside and outside. It would be a great loss for a country if such a leader denies running the country.
We had suffered a lot by losing the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman when Bangladesh was just a child. Military rulers did not only destroy the basic ideologies from the holy soil of Bangabandhu’s Bangladesh, the country born on the flooding blood of our martyrs but also rehabilitated the anti-liberation force everywhere in the society. People saw a number of military coups d’état and counter coups during those darken days.
As staying abroad, Sheikh Hasina, the eldest daughter of Bangabandhu, survived along with her younger sister when the Father of the Nation and members of his family were brutally assassinated by some misguided army personnel on 15th August 1975. Politics was in her blood, though Sheikh Hasina was passing her days as housewife. Finally, at a critical juncture of political situation in Bangladesh, she had to return to Bangladesh on 17 May 1981, at the request of the leaders of Awami League, to hold the steering of the party.
That was the starting of Sheikh Hasina’s political journey. She had already served the country as Prime Minister for three terms (15 years) from 1996-2001 and 2009-2018. She has been elected Prime Minister for the fourth term and is now running the government. As she has indicated, she will complete 20 years as the Prime Minister of Bangladesh if she retires after completion of the present term. Is it too much to stay in power for a leader like her? Not only Tun Mahathir, we can find leaders in a number of countries in the world who are at the helm of power for longer period than Sheikh Hasina. I am talking about those leaders who were chosen by their people, not holding the position by force or otherwise.Sheikh Hasina is a leader of the people. She is the only courageous leader in Bangladesh who took bold initiatives to bring all war criminals and killers of the Father of the Nation as well as our four national leaders to justice. Her enormous economic development and welfare activities have proved that Bangladesh needs a leader like her. People of Bangladesh have elected her for the fourth time to build their destiny, which is the testimony of her charismatic leadership. Once, Bangladesh was known by the name of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Recently Sheikh Hasina’s leadership for the development of her country as well as her contribution to the world community has placed her at a respectable position. The world leaders have highly appreciated Sheikh Hasina for her extraordinary and courageous role on different issues at national, regional and international levels. Bangladesh is now a role model of development for the whole world, particularly for the developing countries. And that has been possible due to the visionary leadership of Sheikh Hasina.
Being the President of Awami League, the largest and oldest political party of Bangladesh that led our war of liberation, Sheikh Hasina has many obligations for her party and its members; she cannot ignore those. So far I understand, her party people will never agree to let her retire now. There is no alternative of Sheikh Hasina to maintain party’s unity and to evaluate the sentiments of the party members. On the other hand, is there any replacement of Sheikh Hasina in the party? Perhaps, the answer will be a big ‘No’. Then, to whom will she handover her charge to run the party or the country? There must be someone to take this responsibility. We believe, Sheikh Hasina has all these things in her mind. Of course, she will not take any such decision pushing, at least, her party people in despair.
It’s true that Sheikh Hasina lives with unlimited pains in her heart which is irreparable. It is difficult for any person to bear the loss like her. Nevertheless, she has been suffering from hearing problem since the heinous grenade attack on Awami League rally on 21 August 2004 during BNP-led government. But, we believe, Sheikh Hasina loves her people. She has, like her father, the same dream to see Bangladesh as a country free from hunger and poverty. And she has, by this time, fixed all objectives and plans to achieve that. Then, how can she leave so early and without an appropriate successor?
The writer is a former Ambassador