The Dhaka pattern

Zia's call for the institutions of the state to join her campaign against a democratically and legally constituted government can only draw one's attention to some of the more sordid of episodes that have undermined constitutional rule in Bangladesh. In August 1975, the usurping regime of Khondakar Moshtaque Ahmed celebrated the violent fall of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's government as a noble deed carried out by "children of the Sun" (shurjo shontan). In November 1975, just hours after the newly installed president, Abu Sadat Mohammad Sayem, promised new general elections in the country, a so-called sipahi-janata revolution triggered off a spree of killings in cantonments across the country, leaving hundreds of freedom-fighter officers dead. The idea of democracy seemed remote.

Between the end of 1981 and early 1982, General H.M. Ershad, the chief of army staff, put pressure on the newly elected president, Abdus Sattar, to set up a national security council incorporating elements of the armed services. In the end, Ershad could not wait. He ousted Sattar and seized power. Democracy was once again a fugitive. In May 1996, when the army chief, Mohammad Nasim, moved against Bangabhaban, the presidential residence, the president, Abdur Rahman Biswas, took swift action by divesting the former of his position and restoring the authority of the government. It was a bright moment for democracy in Bangladesh.

But this promise dimmed again a decade later. Between October 2006 and January 2007, the former president, Iajuddin Ahmed, with enthusiastic support from the BNP, took charge as chief advisor of the caretaker government. What followed was an unmitigated shame. A partisan election commission produced tens of thousands of fake voters, including individuals who had passed away, in the electoral lists. The administration operated on instructions from Hawa Bhaban, the political office of the chairperson of the BNP. The state teetered on the edge of disaster. And then the army came in, on the back of the Fakhruddin caretaker government. It stayed in place for two years.

... contd.

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