Healthy democratic tradition set by declining the offer of Ministership

Healthy democratic tradition set by declining the offer of Ministership

On 13th September seven—five ministers and two state ministers- –were sworn in by the President. Earlier in the media, the names of Tofail Ahmed and Rashed Khan Menon were included to be sworn in as Ministers.

Later it was revealed that two veteran leaders-Tofail Ahmed of Awami League (AL) and Rashed Khan Menon of the Workers Party- a partner of the grand alliance of the AL-led government did not accept the offer. However in their place, two MPs- Mostafa Farooq Mohammad from Jessore and A.H. Mahmood Ali– from Dinajpur were sworn in and both of them were career diplomats and retired as Ambassadors before they joined Awami League.

Let us examine why the two seasoned leaders–one from the Awami League and the other from the Workers Party— did not accept the invitation to become Ministers.

Before the names of the two seasoned leaders were made public in the media, it would have been better to know discreetly whether they would accept the position before the names were disclosed.

It seems that it was taken for granted they would accept the offer and political history shows during the last 41 years that those who were invited to become Ministers would invariably accept such rewarding and honoured positions. This assumption was proved wrong this time and this surprised the political circles in Bangladesh .

Each leader indicated his reasons for non-acceptance. Tofail Ahmed reportedly said : “At the moment, I am not mentally, politically or socially prepared to take office as a minister”. The words have been carefully chosen to convey his non-acceptance.

Observers believe that Tofail did not a get a berth in the ministerial positions when the Prime Minister formed the government in January 2009. Political observers were surprised at the time when he was not included as a minister and believe he was hurt and at the end of its tenure of the government, he does not wish to take responsibility for the actions/inactions of the government by accepting ministerial position

Furthermore he has been sidelined in the AL political structure since mid-2009. He has not been appointed as a member of the highest policy-making body Presidium or in the Working Committee of AL. He has been made only a member of Advisory Council of the party which he reportedly did not think much of. Instead he wants to be known as “AL-worker Tofail” only.

President of the Workers Party, Rashed Khan Menon, on the other hand, was not allowed to join the position by the politburo of his party. The politburo reportedly observed that the government had become isolated from the people by its failure in many areas and therefore it would be “imprudent” for Menon to accept the offer. On 14th September Menon reportedly told the journalists at Dhaka Reporters Unity: “This (the offer) was never part of a political process that has been clear from the Prime minister’s remark”.

Both Tofail and Rashed Khan Menon expressed views in the parliament and outside that government had failed to deliver its pledges in many sectors and they felt that the government did not pay heed to many of their suggestions on issues like the share market scam and Sonali Bank loan scandal.

By not accepting the positions, observers believe that the two leaders have sent a great signal to the public that there are leaders who have guts and convictions to decline the offer of ministerial positions. This is for the first time I recall that those who were invited to join as ministers have courteously have turned down the offer.

Ministerial expansion or reshuffle is a “routine matter” in parliamentary democracy undertaken by the Prime Minister to inject new momentum in the activities of the government and it occurs in all countries of democracy. Bangladesh is no exception.

In this case, it is an expansion as no one has been dropped from their ministerial positions. Only portfolios have been re-distributed among the earlier and new ministers and state ministers. The public and the civil society were disappointed not to see that incompetent ministers were not dropped. (The number of ministers including the Prime Minister stands now at 51).

With regard to the reasons for expansion of ministerial positions, many political observers believe the decision was taken on various grounds and they include the following:

  • •there is a perception in public that ministers, except a few, have not performed well and there is a constant murmur in civil society that experienced and suitable persons were not inducted when the Prime Minister formed the government in early January 2009. The expansion appears to be an attempt to rectify the situation.
    • the government’s image needs to be improved because its administration has been perceived to be inept in dealing with various public contentious issues and the people in general are found to be very unhappy and disheartened. Various media reports have shown the shrinkage of .base support of AL during its rule and the expansion is to restore the public confidence in the AL .
    •the partners of the grand alliance have alleged that the Awami League has not consulted with them on many of its policy- decisions and differences of opinion were expressed openly in the parliament by some members of partners of the alliance. Obviously there has been a lack of cohesion within the grand alliance partners and it needs to be strengthened by offering ministerial position to AL political partners.
    •the induction of new ministers from Rajshahi and Khulna divisions will strengthen the representation from the northern and western districts and will have some positive impact on the people of the concerned districts during the forthcoming parliamentary elections.
    •since the parliamentary elections are to be held within 14 months, the AL needs to step up its gear to fulfill the promises made in the AL manifesto before the last election and the expanded ministry would make all-out efforts to meet some crucial electoral pledges..

Political analysts say the non-acceptance demonstrated openly the crack within the AL and the grand alliance of the government and this might not help the AL in winning back the confidence of the people when two seasoned leaders rejected the offer. What the Prime Minister wanted to achieve through the expansion has been negated in public perception by non-acceptance of the two leaders.

There is another valuable perspective to be gained from the non-acceptance of the offer. It illustrates that there could be differences of opinion on issues within the AL and grand alliance partners and it is a sign of healthy democratic tradition. Democracy means plurality of views. Democracy also means adherence of principles to good governance and public accountability. It is a welcome development and needs to be nourished.

By Barrister Harun ur Rashid

Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva .

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