No middle ground in Dhaka
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The decision of 13 sitting members of Parliament to leave the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and join with former president, Badruddoza Chowdhury, in floating the Liberal Democratic Party on the eve of the installation of the caretaker government, adds another dimension to the tug of war in Bangladesh. They have been reportedly joined by large numbers of former BNP legislators and other prominent personalities; they claim that further defections from the BNP are expected soon. Most prominent among the BNP leaders to join the new party is Col (retd) Oli Ahmed.
The development comes in the wake of increasing tensions and speculation about the future of the caretaker government. Following the political crisis in February-March 1996 when the Opposition refused to participate in the elections and subsequent agitations brought the country to a standstill, the newly elected Parliament had enacted an amendment to the Constitution by which Parliament would be dissolved three months before elections and the government handed over to a caretaker government to be headed by the last chief justice. He, in turn, was authorised to run the country and form a cabinet with non-political members of civil society. The new dispensation which was, in fact, a replay of the procedure put in place for the previous election in 1991 after the Ershad government was brought down by street protests not dissimilar to what happened in Kathmandu last April, worked without controversy for the June 1996 elections which brought the Opposition Awami League to power. After losing the 2001 elections, the Awami League brought charges of irregularity against the caretaker government, but this did not seem to agitate too many people.
A crisis brewed two years ago with the decision of the government to raise the retirement age of judges from 65 to 67. This made Justice K.M. Hasan the last chief justice and, hence, qualified to head the caretaker government for the next elections. Though reputed to be an upright gentleman, Justice Hasan had been a member of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party when it was floated by late President Ziaur Rehman in the late '70s before he was elevated to the bench. The contention of the 14-party Opposition alliance has been that as a former member of the BNP he cannot be expected to be impartial in the discharge of his duties.
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