Thursday, 20 January, 2022

Straight Talk

Last Three Years of Awami League Government

Abdul Mannan

Last Three Years of Awami League Government
Abdul Mannan

On 7th January Bangladesh Awami League led government completed its three years after the 2018 election with Sheikh Hasina leading the government as the Prime Minister for the third consecutive terms, a feat which is only surpassed by the former Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohammad who was in power for twenty four years and when he finally left office in 2020 he was 94. Mahathir was previously surpassed by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who ruled his country for a long 31 years. Both leaders changed the façade of their country. Bothe of these two countries are virtually ruled each by a single political party while Bangladesh is a multi-party democracy. Malaysia though does have  few other political parties Mahathir Mohammad’s party UNMO ruled Malaysia  from 1958 to 2018 at a stretch and now it is expected that UNMO may make a comeback in the next election scheduled to be held on or before July 2023.

Sheikh Hasina-led government has been in power on four different terms, three at a stretch beginning on 7th January 2009 following the election held on 30th December 2008. In the election of 1996 it was for the first time Bangladesh Awami League was voted to power after a lapse of twenty one years, since the Founding Father of Bangladesh Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated on the fateful night of 15th August 1975. Since his assassination the country was ruled by two military rulers and Begum Zia (1991-96). It was expected that her rule will give the country good governance and revert to an acceptable democratic system which she failed to deliver miserably. The 1996 election was won by Bangladesh Awami League under Sheikh Hasina and she formed a government with the support of couple of other smaller parties.

Though Awami League failed to win the election of 2001, the party made a comeback in the election of 2008 and till now Awami League has won the election on two more successive occasions, the first one in 2014 and second in 2018. Though the election of 2008 was held under a non-party Caretaker Government such government was challenged in the Apex court of the country which termed the system as unconstitutional and undemocratic. In its judgment delivered in 2012 it said in a democratic system not for a single minute should the governance of a country be handed over to any non-elected government or person. However one of the major political parties of the country, BNP and its allies refused to accept the verdict of the apex court and to press home their demand to hold the election under an unconstitutional government created an war like situation in 2013 and 2014 that claimed lives of about three hundred innocent persons and destroyed public and private properties worth few millions of taka. Ironically the non-party Care Taker system was challenged in the court in 2005 when BNP-Jamaat coalition was in power.

In the election of 2018 BNP and its allies took part and lost to Awami League. Till then Awami League has been in power and if anyone looks dispassionately the rule of Awami League under Sheikh Hasina has been remarkably better than any other previous time under different governments. During this time the country went through a dramatic development in the socio-economic arena. If we are to assess the current government’s last three years’ rule, it must be done taking into consideration the extreme pressure created by Covid-19 on all fronts. Braving all the odds created by Covid-19 it can be safely said that in comparison to many countries in this part of the world Bangladesh has clearly emerged as a winner and the credit must be given to proactive actions taken by the Prime Minster and her government even before the pandemic hit Bangladesh, including putting order for vaccine with the Serum Institute of India (AstraZeneca). She also gave a guideline as to what is to be done when the pandemic arrives in Bangladesh. The pandemic virtually compelled the country to impose cap on many socio-economic activities of the government and the people. But still the performance of the government can be termed satisfactory by any standard.

During the last three years of the present government the most remarkable achievement was the graduation of Bangladesh from LDC to Developing country. Bangabandhu during his three and a half year rule lifted Bangladesh from ‘underdeveloped’ country to Least Developed Country (LDC) and it is a coincidence that it was during his daughter’s rule the country graduated from LDC to a Developing country though since 1975 a number of governments have ruled the country. According to Asian Development Bank in their annual report published in last September, during this pandemic period only 23 countries showed positive growth; Bangladesh being placed in the third position and first in South and South East Asia. In a recent seminar participated by the renowned economists of the country, the Senior Secretary of Finance Division of the government Abdur Rouf said, in the last financial year only 41 countries of the world showed positive economic growth and Bangladesh was placed in the number one position. The credit for such a stellar performance must be given to the agriculture sector of the country. The country had good harvests for quite a few successive years. Thanks should also be given to the researchers in our agricultural sector for coming out with high yielding variety of rice seeds and better methods of cultivation and irrigation.

Initially the Readymade Garments Sector showed a sluggish growth due to the pandemic but soon recovered taking advantage of monetary incentive given by the government. The foreign exchange remittance from the expatriate workers is currently showing an upward trend after suffering from initial hiccups. According to Dr. Binyak Sen, DG of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) Bangladesh is among the 17 countries that has   successfully reduced poverty and ended malnourishment in the last two decades. He also said Bangladesh also fared moderately well in cubing inequality. (Dhaka Tribune, January 6, 2022).

During this difficult time  the work of the mega projects like the Padma Bridge, Rooppur Nuclear Power plant, the Dhaka Metro Rail project, the tunnel under the Karnafuli river in Chittagong  and quite a few other projects inched towards completion. If everything works out well some of these projects, like the iconic Padma Bridge is scheduled to be opened for public use in the middle of the current year.  During this period the foreign exchange reserve of Bangladesh has swelled and for the first time it has loaned foreign exchange strapped Sri Lanka US$ 250 million and is contemplating to sanction US$ 200 million for Maldives. Though so far more than 28 thousand people have lost their lives due to Covid-19 in Bangladesh the country has performed better than most of the countries in the region in combating the pandemic. If initially the country’s Health Ministry did not take a laid back approach to the problem, perhaps the casualty would have been much less.

Though during the last three years the present Awami League led government has done well, it does have some problems which need immediate attention; the most burning problem is seemingly the crumbling chain of command in the party which was and still is being reflected in the Union Parishad elections. So far the election claimed more  than  one hundred  lives and the party nominated candidates in large number of constituencies have miserably failed to win the election because those  who bagged the party nomination was alleged to have purchased their nominations or somehow influenced the party hierarchy to get the nominations. So far the Awami League nominated candidates have managed to win in only 341 seats while rebel candidates (so called neutral) in 347. In one constituency the Awami League nominated candidate could bag only 42 votes and in another only 56. This could be a bad omen for the future elections of all kinds.

As the party is in power for three consecutive terms, it seems some of the party leaders are suffering some sort of power amnesia and allowed members of other political parties including Jamaat-e-Islami become members of Awami League. In many places such people have outnumbered the genuine members of the party. It seems in many places Awami League is making its own Trojan horse. Though the case of Dr. Murad is a case to be noted, the number of such people has grown alarmingly in the party. During this pandemic time, the Prime Minster has performed most of her routine functions virtually on-line preventing her from knowing some crucial ground realities. Many people have been posted in key positions disregarding laws, regulations and conventions to please some other people. A section of bureaucrats have become unnecessarily too powerful and some even have shown the audacity to mislead the government and party policymakers. If Awami League could maintain its cohesiveness, it would be difficult to challenge the party in near future. But unfortunately this has not happened and the old saying that ‘the main opponent of Awami League is Awami League’ is again becoming true. So far most of the damage to party has been done by self-styled Awami Leaguers.

The next general election is scheduled to be held towards the end of 2023. In the meantime the main opposition party BNP will do lots of sabre rattling and will attempt to create unrest in the country but to counter this. The Awami League needs to thoroughly reform itself. Corruption still remains endemic causing immense harm to the image of the party and the country. The epidemic has engulfed a section of the government officials, businessmen and politicians. If not stopped this may cause immense damage to the country’s and Awami League’s image.

As to the party leadership there is no alternative to Sheikh Hasina at the moment. In the election of 2023 if the people votes for Awami League it will not have to search a new Prime Minister. Last one year has been good. Let the coming year be even better.


The writer is an analyst and commentator