Good governance – which people cherish – is currently not feasible in the existing political reality. An aware citizens group mindful to establish and protect their rights i.e. play their role as attentive concierges in the state, including all spheres of society, are crucial to this end. At the same time, these citizens act as a pressure group on the government, policy makers and different service-providing institutions. SHUJAN is trying to organize this aware, active, and vocal citizenry. As former Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Felix Frankfurter, famously declared, SHUJAN also believes that “No office in the land is more important than that of being a citizen.”
On the eve of 2002, the non-partisan organization Citizens for Fair Elections (CFE) was formed through initiatives taken by a group of aware citizens targeting the establishment of good governance through fair and acceptable elections. Later on, a new name “SHUJAN” was given to Citizens for Fair Elections (CFE) on 21 December 2003, with the aim to not solely define its activities in elections but rather extend its practices.
After its establishment in 2003, the first National Convention of SHUJAN was celebrated in 2006. In keeping with this continuation, the fifth National Convention of SHUJAN was celebrated with a hope to establish movements for good governance in Bangladesh through oaths taken on 27 December 2014 at the Institute of Diploma Engineers-Bangladesh multipurpose conference hall. About 800 receptive and organized SHUJAN representatives from all over the country participated in the convention. The convention was graciously inaugurated with the national anthem. SHUJAN president M. Hafiz Uddin Khan presided over the convention, while central coordinator Dilip Kumar Sarker moderated the convention. Dr. Akbar Ali Khan, ex-adviser of caretaker government, Abu Hena and Dr. A.T.M. Shamsul Huda, ex-chief election commissioner, Emaz Uddin Ahmed, ex-vice-chancellor of the University of Dhaka, Mahbubur Rahman, president of International Chambers of Commerce, prominent politician Dr. Enam Ahmed Chowdhury, Asif Nazrul and Robayet Ferdous, University of Dhaka, TV presenter Ashfaqu Kayser, and Barrister Jyotirmoy Barua, presented in the convention as guests.
A.S.M. Shajahan, ex-adviser and vice president of caretaker government respectively, Ali Imam Majumder, ex-cabinet secretary and executive member, SHUJAN, Sayed Abul Maksud, Jaforullah Chowdhury, Engineer Musba Alim, Professor Nazma Hasin, and Dr. Jalal Uddin, executive members of SHUJAN participated in the convention.
In his inaugural speech, M. Hafiz Uddin Khan stated, “Laws and rules prevail in the country but not good governance. Political parties are a must for a democratic country. But, instead of democracy, patriarchy prevails in the country.” “We, SHUJAN, have been moving to establish good governance in Bangladesh for a long time resulting in building awareness among the people,” he added.
“An intolerant democracy is prevailing in Bangladesh and through its modus operandi, democracy’s actual characteristics are eroded, former adviser to a caretaker government,” Dr. Akbar Ali Khan declared.
“Democracy in Bangladesh is weakening despite the democratic movements of the last three or four decades alongside other mass movements, elections, and changes in governments,” Dr. Khan announced. “There are many derailments, including in constitutional bodies which are witnessing decay. For instance, power is concentrated at the core and the parliament was losing power,” he said. Stressing that democracy cannot be ensured solely by replacing one ruling party with another, Dr. Khan pointed out that in the country’s electoral system a party which received only 40% of votes can have 60% of the seats in parliament. “153 persons got seats in parliament without any votes being cast in their favour…After assuming power through elections, political parties think they can do whatever they want,” he lamented. “Hartals would become redundant if the country had a system of holding referendums on issues of national interest,” Dr. Khan reported. For example, whether voters want a caretaker government during elections could be ascertained through holding a referendum, he opined, adding that whether a caretaker government was needed was an issue for the voters, not the political parties.
Citing his prior experience, former chief election commissioner Abu Hena said the service delivery of the public administration has degraded as deputy commissioners now work at the instructions of lawmakers, although they are supposed to work as per the law. “Good governance is necessary for the best government, democracy, democratic country and its people,” Hena related.
“The country is witnessing an elected autocracy in the guise of democracy,” said former chief election commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda, adding that the kind of electoral democracy practiced in the country was a reflection of regressive and a limited conceptualization of democracy. As a result, not even the limited scope of practicing democracy in the existing electoral system is utilized. “Not even the benefits of electoral democracy are achieved in the country as the opposition frequently boycotts the parliament,” he said. “The 2014 election saw goals scored in an empty field…no party ever benefited from boycotting elections,” remarked Shamsul. “Corruption prevails in every facet of the public sector…Services for everything starting from birth certificates to death certificates and anything in between require bribes,” Huda stated, adding that poor and low-income people suffered the most under this system.
SHUJAN secretary, Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, declared political parties should immediately reach a consensus about a poll-time government to ensure that future elections were fair, competitive and participatory. “Judged by what we know from Bangladesh’s history, it cannot be said with certainty that future elections will be free of rigging and the administration, law enforcement agencies, and the election commission will be free of partisanship,” he asserted.
Dhaka University Professor Robayet Ferdous indicated that within the new development paradigm, per-capita income is not the sole indicator. Today, development means the rule of law, freedom of the judiciary, and women’s empowerment; the latter unable to be quantified and currently under development.
Former Dhaka University Vice-chancellor, Prof Emaz Uddin Ahmed, disclosed that the Bangladeshi people have been living through a very rough experience. “It is meaningless to think about development without democracy.”
Professor at University of Dhaka, Asif Nazrul declared, “Most of the organizations conduct their activities in accordance with the existing situation, but SHUJAN is exceptional in this regard. SHUJAN is aware and clamor in everywhere against ill practice without taking into consideration who are in power.”
“Neutral people like SHUJAN should play a vital role in the present context of democracy because country people desire democracy. Instead of democracy, patriarchy prevails everywhere in the country”, affirmed Ashfaqu Kaysar.
In the working session, SHUJAN leaders from all Bangladesh participated in the discussion on the organizational report and proposed a national charter. An executive committee comprised of 21 members was formed through the council session. M. Hafiz Uddin Khan and Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar were unanimously elected as president and secretary of SHUJAN for the next two years respectively. The new executive committee expressed their gratitude to all and sought cordial cooperation to run the organizational activities smoothly. The convention came to a cheerful end through a lively and cultural closing ceremony.