My thought process changed whilst in jail

My thought process changed whilst in jail

New Age: How are you these days, especially health-wise? Before you were put behind bars in September last year, it was reported in the media that you wanted to go to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. Did you really want to go abroad at that time, or did some government quarters want to force you into exile in the name of medicare? Do you have any immediate plan to go abroad for medical treatment before the next parliamentary polls?
Khaleda Zia: Outside jail, I am feeling much better. Yes, there was a move to send me abroad for medical treatment. But, I did not wish to go. I do not have any plan to go abroad for medical treatment before the next national elections.

NA: It has been more than a year that you are not in active politics, due to your imprisonment as well as government-imposed restrictions on your freedom of movement before your arrest. Do you find this isolation quite difficult, particularly after so many years of active life in the public domain?
KZ: A solitary confinement before any trial, in a sub-jail, for more than a year has indeed left a deep mark in my mind. But, I am trying to overcome that and I hope to recover fully.

NA: While in jail, alone, many political thoughts/steps must have come across your mind to be taken to bring changes in our political system in general and your party in particular. Would you please share those thoughts, or some of those at the least, with our readers? What was your prime time pass in the jail, other than worrying/thinking?
KZ: Yes, the complete isolation was very painful. Each serious event in a person’s life brings a new dimension to the thought process. My thought process has also changed whilst I was in sub-jail. This change will be reflected in my future plan and deed. May I respectfully request your readers to be a little patient and watch my future moves.
I was allowed to read four daily newspapers. New Age was not one of them. I spent time in reading those newspapers, some books and the usual prayers to the almighty Allah.

NA: The ‘state of emergency’, under which people’s political rights are being suspended, is an undesirable phenomenon for a society aspiring for vibrant democratic growth. Do you accept that the reluctance of your government/party to forge an effective political negotiation with the Awami League on electoral issues at the end of your tenure in October 2006 paved the way for emergency?
KZ: My government was not in power when the state of emergency was imposed. The government who imposed the state of emergency is in a position to explain why they took this measure. History and people will judge how much contribution our party had in creating a situation which led to this state of emergency.

NA: Why, in your view, did the incumbents reportedly try to implement the much talked about ‘minus-two theory’ to banish you and Awami League president Sheikh Hasina from political arena? And, again, why did some of the leaders belonging to your respective parties subscribe to the idea?
KZ: I suppose certain vested interest groups, who do not believe in the people’s right to choose their leaders, were behind such an idea. And, who knows, some leaders of the political parties concerned were forced to support the theory.

NA: How do you evaluate the performance of the caretaker/interim government of Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed, particularly in terms of its pronounced objective to prepare a level playing field for a credible national election?
KZ: We are now nearly at the end of the roadmap towards holding a free and fair general election. Whether a level playing field has been created and will be maintained can be assessed only after the election has been held. We and our countrymen will observe how the election is conducted and will come to a conclusion after that. May I say that the field is still certainly not level. The BNP was put in an uphill position. Some efforts are now being made to put that right. A true level playing field has to be created. Otherwise, the results will not be acceptable to the people. The interim government and the Election Commission must realise this. If other parties are given an easier field whilst the BNP has to toil on a hard field, the competition will be unfair, the results will be misrepresenting. We have to watch how sincerely this work of creating a level playing field continues till the election.

NA: Do you think that the government of Fakhruddin Ahmed is functioning within the framework of the state’s constitution, particularly in terms of its tenure and jurisdictions? If not, what steps would you take, if voted to power again, about the policy decisions – political and economic – that the government has made and implemented?
KZ: The interim government set its own course, tenure, jurisdiction and agenda. If some irregularity has occurred during this government’s rule, we may have to accept that as a reality. If voted to power again, good political and economic decisions by this government will be allowed to continue. Generally, an incoming government does not change good decisions by the outgoing government. This is normal, practical and sensible. But, bad decisions by the outgoing government may have to be reconsidered by the incoming parliament.

NA: Do you find the Election Commission, headed by ATM Shamsul Huda, a party neutral body? Given the fact that the commission refused to recognise Khandaker Delwar Hossain as the secretary general of your BNP for months, do you think it can deliver a free and fair national election?
KZ: Everybody expects that the Election Commission will deliver a free and fair election, so do I. However, I would like to point out that only very recently the chief election commissioner has admitted that the BNP was unfairly treated. That is why we had demanded the re-organisation of the EC. The CEC has now apologised and although we are in a forgiving mood, we must point out that this EC has taken nearly two years to hold a national election. That is a very long time. No other EC had taken this much time.

NA: There are expectations in society these days that if an elected government is installed, the economic crises that the people have been exposed to under the present unelected regime may be resolved. Do you have any comment on the mass expectations in this regard?
KZ: The people are right, I believe. They are these days in a position to compare between the performances of our elected government and the unelected regime ruling the country for some two years now. They have seen that we have worked for the people, for the development of the country, and we were close to transforming the country into a middle-income one. So, the people rightly pin their hopes on an elected government to take over soon for the sake of public interest.
I believe, if we are voted to power, we will be able to help rid people of their present sufferings and miseries.

NA: We have seen in the past the major political parties, including yours, have fielded significant number of affluent candidates in parliamentary polls who have hardly any political background, let alone dedication to the parties that they contested on the ticket of. Would you give a second thought on the adverse political implication of such a practice before awarding nominations for the next elections?
KZ: Nominating candidates from among the rich had never been a guiding principle for our party. While it is important for the party to secure more seats, we have always tried to see which candidates have more popularity among the people of the constituency concerned. There had been some candidates, who happened to be rich, but that was not the main criteria for getting the party nominations. …You may be aware that we conduct more than one survey in the parliamentary constituencies to understand who are the most popular among

people, and thus could secure more votes.

NA: Reports have it that certain military intelligence agencies have been most politically active since the promulgation of the state of emergency in January 2007. Don’t you think that it is time the politicians took effective step to keep such agencies within their legally mandated sphere of activity for the sound interests of both our political process and our national army?
KZ: Our armed forces are a national institution. We should always be very careful not to damage its position. The armed forces should always be kept above any controversy. Everybody, outside and within the armed forces, must ensure that the respect it commands, the trust it assures and the love it generates in the heart and minds of the people should always flow unhindered. If the armed forces step beyond its defined role and task, then we should see to it that such wrong steps are not repeated in future. Everybody, including politicians and the armed forces, should learn from their mistakes and be careful in future. This is also the expectation of the people.

NA: Do you find any political role for the army in governing the affairs of the state in a democratic dispensation? What should in your view be the ideal role for our armed forces within the ambit of our nation-state and its constitution?
KZ: In a changing world order, particularly in a developing country like ours, we have to make continuous assessment of the role and scope of work for all government agencies, including the armed forces. This is an ongoing process where decisions have to be made in the light of the current situation. Extensive and exhaustive discussions should take place nationally on this vital issue. A consensus may be reached after such a discussion.

NA: Like many other political parties, there is neither any transparency in the process of collecting and spending funds for your party, nor is there any system of auditing of party funds. Don’t you think it is time to have laws to ensure transparency and accountability of the financial transactions of political parties?
KZ: Yes, I fully agree that transparency and accountability of the financial transactions of political parties should be ensured. But, this is not easy to achieve even in highly democratic countries like the US and the UK. You know that the US has a system whereby a person can regularly contribute a limited sum to the election fund of the party of his choice. Later the government supplements this fund. Apart from that, in the US, political parties hold fundraising lunch, dinner, etc where the invitees contribute. The candidates even sell their autographed photographs. Do you think our country has reached that level of election art?
In the UK the system is still not that transparent. You are aware that some years ago a Bangladeshi billionaire had contributed in one cheque five million sterling pounds to the Labour Party election fund. Later on, the party had to return the entire sum to the donor only after it was sensationally disclosed in a British newspaper. Take another example. Early this year it was reported in the UK that a Las Vegas casino billionaire bankrolls the Conservative Party.
You only read about such incidents that are reported. Obviously, there are many other irregularities which are not reported and are unknown to the voters. This is the situation in the US and the UK. In the light of their experience, we shall have to develop our own system of funding a party machinery and an election campaign. Our party will certainly look into this aspect and try to ensure transparency and accountability as best as we can. In this process, we shall welcome suggestions by your readers and Bangladeshis living abroad, particularly those in the US and the UK.

NA: Many a BNP leader who had been seen busy trying to please you only the other day were seen publicly criticising you after the promulgation of emergency. Did you feel simply betrayed, or think they have certain genuine grievances against you?
KZ: I know that in a changed circumstance some leaders deviated from the normal and expected route. This was not accepted by the grassroots workers. It is still very hard for them to accept. These misguided leaders were rejected by the aggrieved workers and supporters. They felt that they were let down by these leaders. However, now is the time for the nationalist forces to work together.
I should also point out that constructive criticisms within the party should always be practised to develop a truly democratic culture. On the other hand, loyalty and faithfulness are two essential ingredients necessary for the survival of a political party, particularly during adverse times.

NA: The constitution of your party vests almost all the executive authority on the post of the chairperson. Do you think it is time to decentralise the chairperson’s enormous power?
KZ: The BNP’s constitution is approved by its council. In future too, the council will decide what changes are to be brought in the party constitution. However, I am personally in favour of more democratisation and decentralisation.

NA: Most of the BNP leaders who were detained by the army-led joint forces on charge of financial corruption were your close associates. Does the burden of their alleged misdeeds not fall on your shoulders, given that you were the chief executive of the government?
KZ: Generally, corruption is committed by a person and when that person is a party leader or a government minister, it tarnishes the image of the party or the government or both. Quite naturally, a political and social load then falls upon the shoulder of the chief executive of the government. We must also understand the government is the biggest administrative machinery of the country. The chief executive of the government has to trust and delegate responsibility to various members of the government. Therefore, it is not easy to determine the quantum of burden that may have to be borne by the chief executive.

NA: If the BNP leaders are found guilty of financial corruption in the court of law, would you take punitive measures against them at the organisational level?
KZ: In our constitution, a person who has been sentenced under normal law in the highest court of law has no place in the party. Therefore, if a person is tried in an interference-free normal court of law and if he is sentenced in the highest court of law, then he will be out of the party.

NA: Even if they escape justice through the loopholes of law, many of them in the public perceptions are guilty of financial corruption – thanks to the visible difference in their lifestyle before and after the BNP went to power in 2001. Would you take any actions, at the political/organisational level, to honour the public perception?
KZ: In future we shall take stern measures against corruption. You have seen during 2001-2006 how we fought against terrorism. You will see how determinedly we fight against corruption.

NA: The BNP that you took over in 1982 was a centrist party. Despite your many a success in leading the organisation, the BNP has become more of a rightwing party, while obscurantist parties like Jamaat-e-Islami are becoming almost a life partner. Can the people expect the BNP to come back to its centrist position in the near future?
KZ: The BNP was a centrist party. It still is and it will be. It has liberal people on the left and conservative people on the right. The party, as a whole, remains in the middle. I personally believe in tolerance, mutual respect and coexistence of all views so that we all can reach a consensus for the welfare of the whole nation.

NA: Thank you for your time.
KZ: Thank you for letting me express my views. May I take this opportunity to convey Eid and Puja greetings to all your readers.

original soruce |Ashim Haider

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