Thursday, January 9, 2014

Hasina's press conference to international media

Below is the both the transcript of the press conference which the Bangladesh prime minister had with foreign journalists on Monday 6 January - as well as an audio recording of the event itself. 

I am publishing it here - do note there is nothing secret about this - as I think it is quite instructive. 

My comments about what was said are at the bottom of this post. 

(For those concerned about balance, do see my 'Truth, lies and misrepresentations
concerning a speech given by Khaleda Zia
Q1: After this contested issue around this whole election, do you think there will be another election quite soon as has been suggested from the Awami League as well as the BNP side?  
A1: Well you see our main opposition group did not participate in the election. I tried my best. I offered everything, that if you join we can constitute a government considering of all the political parties, represented in the parliament. Even I offered any ministry our leader of opposition wants and we can hold constitutional election. 

But she did not accept. Not only that she did not accept, she also tried to prevent this election. She asked voters not to come, Also called hartals, siege programme, and tried to burn many election polls, with molotov cocktail and bombs with help of terrorist groups like jamaat-e-Islami and others. But I congratulate my people they are really very brave people, and also our law enforcement agencies, administrators and also those related to electoral process. Everybody worked very hard. Well under these circumstances, many people participated in the election, and election was held. 
The question is that our opposition they have joined hands with a terrorist group, so they do not believe in elections at all, do not believe in people’s adult franchise. It is very unfortunate. So it depends on situation, it depends on circumstances, what they are going to do. Even now they call hartal after election. So definitely there will be another election when time will come  
Q2:  Are you happy with voter turnout  
A2: Yes, of course why not. Although many not parties did not participate 12 others parties participate in the election. And you must appreciate our people. They [the opposition] started throwing bombs, the opposition involved in terrorism or terrorist activities, they call hartal, even then despite that, people participated.  
Q3: In terms of voter turnout could you share the figures with us  
A3: It is election commission, they are collecting all results. From all the centres, there are many remote areas, so when they get it, they will calculate it, they will declare  
Q4: Given gravity of the situation that you have been described with bombs being thrown and the opposition on the street, and you say they have joined hands with a terrorist group, the Jamaat-e-Islami. If the situation springs out of control and the violence increases in Bangladesh would you consider the option of an emergency?  
A4: Well you see, in the last few months, they have started all these activities and you can not call this mass movement, because people are not with them, rather they indulge in terrorist activities. But you have see with your own eyes. We have control over the situation, we hold the election, so in future definitely be able to control. Economy is going on, though they are trying to stop every sector. But I am very much hopeful, because we receive  people’s support, now we will be able to control situation  
Q5: So no possibility of emergency?  
A5: No, no no. Why emergency, that time has been gone. We don’t need emergency. Our people are with us. Because people did not respond to them. You notice one thing. Opposition ask them to come to Dhaka and hold the siege and all this but they did not respond. but rather they participated in the election. So why should I control the emergency, there is no need. As long as people are with us there is no problem.  
Q6: The country surely now will be looking for direct leadership in the way ahead. It is one thing to say that the ball is entirely in the oppositions court, but what will you as PM now to reach a compromise with the opposition for fresh election? How far are you prepared to go?  
A6: Look, I tried my best I told you, I offered a ministry, I offer to share power with our opposition, I have done as much as I can do, but they did not respond. Now If they realize that they made a mistake in not participating in the election, perhaps then they may then come forward to discuss with us or create congeal atmosphere. But they have to leave  all terrorist activities behind. What they are doing is just killing people, killing police, killing innocent people. Even the animals like cows, they are not spared from bombing. Even the trucks, the food grain, the vegetable, all those activities they are now continuing. 
So they should discard from this terrorism, they should stop from calling hartal, stop all these violent activities. If they do it, then there is a possibility. Otherwise they missed the train. Now they did not participate. So what will they do? Will they be able to continue terrorist activities for a long time. No they cant because they have no mass support. Our people, very peace loving people ,they want peaceful atmosphere. They want that this country should go forward. Because of our five years tenure, despite this world wide recession, we made tremendous progress, we achieved MDG goal from 1 up to 6. So we have very good opportunities to take this county for economic development. But if they try to stop it people will reject them totally 
 Q7: Are you at all concerned that EU and other economic blocs may take punitive economic sanctions against you.?  
A7: Why, what has Bangladesh done? 
Q8: There has been some suggestions of that?  
A8: I don’t know. I don’t understand why they will impose sanctions, Bangladesh has not done anything. It is our opposition that is conducting terrorism activities. If you or any other country was to impose sanctions then they should ask the opposition to stop all this violent activity.  Our government, we are running country, we continue our democratic process, time has come so we have completed election, people participated in the election, now we will form the government, and all our economic activities we will continue. Our Growth rate is above 6%. Despite this worldwide recession, we achieved it. Also you can also see how out opposition acts. All their activities, everything. But still we made progress, social safety net progress. We reduced maternal mortality, child mortality. So why should they impose sanction, If you say so, I ask you, then do they want to support terrorism in this country?  
Q9: Many analysts looking at this conflict say at the heart of this conflict is a personal relationship between yourself and opposition leader which is characterized by hatred and distrust, and without that personal relationship it would be more possible for the sides to find compromise?  
A9: How can it be, tell me. It is only because some people raise this issue is because as I feel, we are both woman. That is why. If there had been two men, then perhaps nobody have raised this issue. There is nothing personal, absolutely ideological.. It is absolutely, each and every country you have government party and opposition party. Or multiparty society there are many parties there, so why should it be personal. I don’t understand it. This maybe why the male members are very jealous, only we two either me or she are coming back to power. 
Q10: What is the status of Begum Khaleda Zia. Is she under house arrest or are you providing her security?  
A10: You know from her party, Law enforcement agencies they recieve a letter to increase security and then they did it. Then they started complaining so they remove it. In your country, definitively you have many political parties, so our leaders beside the government, whatever facilities they receive, so the same facilities she will receive.  
Q11: No house arrest?  
A: No, she is not at all under house arrest.  
Q12: You are saying that she received all the security around her house as she denies that, you know  
A12: If you ask our law enforcement agencies and law ministry, they will tell you. They even demanded her security and when they complained they removed that security. She is not all under house arrest. Many ambassadors, they visited her. Even many journalist went to her house and I enquire about it about whether people prevent them and they said not it is not the police she has her own personal security, and they say that she is not [unclear word] 
Q13: Your critics at an international level, they question legitimacy of government chosen without opposition participation.  
A: Listen 12 parties participated in this election. As because there is a high court verdict that Jamaaat is a terrorist party they cant participate in this election , and you know very well that BNP has relationship with Jamaat, as because Jamaat not able to participate so BNP not participate. And that does not mean that there will be a question of legitimacy. No. People participated in the poll and other political parties participated and election definitely is constitutional obligation, 
Q14: A question about Ershad .... 
A14: He is in hospital, but when he wishes he goes to the golf course, he meets people, so whenever he wants he goes out, so no problem.  
Q15: I get the impression from listening to you that you have no sense of crisis in Bangladesh at all. But if you read the newspapers today for example the two leading Bangladesh papers, the Daily Star and the Prothom Alo, you have a real sense that many people do not think this election was legitimate, it lacks credibility. You also have the international community saying much the same thing. And you talk to people on the street, ordinary people, some of them may support your party, they also have a sense of crisis, not knowing where Bangladesh is going to, having a sense that unless you incorporate the opposition party, within the politics of the country, Bangladesh will go into some kind of free fall. I wonder if you can respond to that?  
A16: What do you want. That you want me to start crying. Oh you have crisis, we have crisis! Definitely no. As I am leading the country. Definitively, I have confidence that any crisis we can face. 
Now you mention one newspaper, though its name is totally different, Prothom Allo you mentioned Do you know the name of Prothom Alo. It is ‘First light’, but do you know their job Everything they look for darkness. That is the problem. 
Q17: Is that the same with the Daily star?  
A17: The star, as long as sunshine is then [there is no stars.] Without sunshine a star cannot  blink  So both those newspapers, their only job is to see the dark. They cannot see any light. And all in our country, all private channels. During my last tenure I have given my permission  to all those private channels. Our media is totally free, so they have all freedom to publish whatever they right and however they think. It depends on how people see things. Whether you see it in a dark way or light way. It is totally up to you.  
Q18: You have been a central figure in this country for many, many years and the political system, and I wonder whether in this part of your life you will think about succession and whether you have chosen a successor. Have your chosen a successor when you decide to leave politics  
A18: Why should I do, tell me. It is the people, or my party. not me  
Q19: So you are saying that the successor will be chosen through ..  
A19: My party will chose and then our people.  
Q20: On war crimes tribunal and many people say that the violence that we have seen into the run up to the polls is due to the verdicts given in the war crimes tribunal have been unfair. What is the commitment that your government has to bringing these war criminals to justice. Are you gong to continue with these verdicts. How does it work, hence forth.  
A20: War criminals trial it is people’s demands and it is very open, and so this trial definitely it is our people demands that it will continue.  
Q21: Many people in this country are unhappy with your closeness to India, what is your view on that, given that India has not given treaties that you promised like Teesta and the border issue. What is your message to India  
A21: With every neighboring country we have very good relations, we value that. Our country is an independent country, has its own view. So not only with India but in this region we have wonderful relationship. As I feel that in this relation we have people really very poor, our only one aim is to develop this people economically and socially and in other sectors. 
So for that reason I feel that we should have connectivity with all the neighboring  countries and we should have good relationship. With India we have very good relations, though as a neighbor, we have some problem, but in the past we have solved the sharing of Ganges water. We signed the treaty, and also about land territory, we have had the discussion, we already we have completed our side, and now it is for India party to ratify that land boundary issue. And Teesta, not only Teesta we have another 54 rivers disputes about water. I feel through bilateral discussion we will be able to solve this problem. So with neighbor country we always value, friendship, co-operation and definitely equal [unclear word]
A1 and A6. In Hasina's world the issue of the caretaker government, and BNP's popular call for the re-establishment of the system which AL had campaigned for and won in 1996, and then unilaterally removed, which has been the cause of the whole problem has apparently been erased from history. All the reasons why she had campaigned for the caretaker government, at great disruption to the country and loss of life at the time, no longer exist. In her world, she BNP just decided not to participate in the election, without any reason of any kind. I have argued elsewhere that Hasina's decision to remove the caretaker was the principle reason for the situation that Bangladesh is now in (though also that BNP made a serious strategic error in not taking part in the election).

It has now become part of Awami League's basic discourse that the Jamaat-e-Islami is a terrorist organization. Every act of violence that takes place in the country is put down to them. It is difficult to deny - although of course the Jamaat do so - that they have been involved in some if not a great deal of violence, and of course to the extent that they are, should be highly criticised for that, and those responsible brought to account. However, it is likely all the same, from my experience of the way journalists in Bangladesh attribute responsibility for violence, that their involvement is exaggerated. Moreover, if the Jamaat are now terrorists, then the Awami League in the past have also been terrorists, as they have also been involved in very similiar acts in the past in very similar circumstances. Also, there is the issue of allegations of state terrorism - in which people are disappeared, arrested on false charges and killed through the use of disproportionate force. In my view it is not helpful at all to call the Jamaat, a political party which has the support of hundreds of thousands if not millions of people in the country, a terrorist organisation.

It is of course fair for Hasina to have made the point that in some places people were intimidated from voting, and pointed to the burning of polling stations - and BNP have lost much of their moral high ground by their actions on election day. But 18 people were killed on election day apparently through police firing in circumstances which it is alleged that they were involving in trying to disrupt the election. 18 shot dead by the police is a huge number.

A2. It is interesting that the the prime minister did not try to argue that 40% of the electorate voting - which is what the election commission claim - was not adequate. Of course, she fails to deal with the issue that in over half of the country, there was no voting as there was only one candidate.

A4. Yes, it is difficult to see why a state of emergency would now need to be called. The governemnt does seem to be in control of the situation.

But the refrain, also mentioned elsewhere in the interview, that the Awami League has we 'people’s support' and the 'people are with us' - is not borne out by the facts. There has been no election which shows that people are with them, and many of the sieges have been successful on its won terms, and the 29th rally was only unsuccessful due to the huge number of arrests, and the cordoning off of the capital.

A8: This answer is similar to the comment that Sajeeb Wajed, her son, made about the EU decision not to send observers. If you do something which we do not want you to do, you are supporting the terrorists/war criminals. Her answer appears not to appreciate that there is a very different opinion, honestly held by those who would otherwise be keen to support the Awami League government, that the elections (in its lack of participation of BNP, the absence of voting in over half the seats, lack of competition in other seats and low turnout) lack legitimacy/credibility.

A9: Obviously a difficult question for the prime minister to answer, but she must be one of the few people in Bangladesh who do not appreciate that whilst there may well be an ideological conflict between the two woman, there is a very personal bitternesss between the two woman, which of course was made very clear in the leaked recording of the recent telephone conversation between the two women. 

A10, 11, 12: This must the most extraordinary answer in the whole press conference. The idea that somehow Khaleda Zia asked for security which involved 200 police officers outside her house, trucks blocking the road's exit on both sides, the prevention of people going into the house, the arrest of people when they left - it is just simply absurd. One does not like to accuse a sitting prime minister of lying - and I shall not - but it is difficult to describe it in any other way.

This is the problem about Bangladesh politics. Politicians think they can say literally anything however untruthful, unbelievable and unsubstantiated by what everyone can observe.

A13: Maybe 12 parties participated in the election, but other than the Awami League, there are no significant parties. They are not just 'not significant' parties, but they are parties which in terms of popular support are insignificant. Does the prime minister think that the international media is unaware of that?

Clearly elections are a constitutional obligations, that is true - but of course this was the same argument that Khaleda Zia argued in 1996 and 2006, when Sheikh Hasina was in the opposition, and Hasina certainly did not accept them then. Laws and constitutions can be changed to ensure that the point of them work - and what is certain is that the point of the constitution simply has not worked if the current election is considered legitimate.

It is also not credible for the prime minister to say that the BNP did not want to participate in the elections as the Jammat had been prevented from doing so by the High Court. The banning of the Jamaat from the election was actually to the BNP's advantage as it meant that they would get all the Jamaat's vote - so Hasina's arguments on that point simply does not make sense. 

A14: Again, as in relation to the prime minister's response to Khaleda's detention, her response to Ershad is ridiculous. Clearly, he was taken away against his will.

A15: In her answer, the prime minister gives the first kind of acknowledgment that she does recognise that she is in a difficult situation, by saying that she is not going to show it.

Her comments about the media are very telling. Referring to Prothom Alo and the Daily Star - both highly independent papers - she said 'Both those newspapers, their only job is to see the dark. They cannot see any light.' Many think that these newspapers could be under threat from the new government, but it is notable that the prime minister said, and of course she should be reminded of this that,  'Our media is totally free, so they have all freedom to publish whatever they write and however they think. It depends on how people see things. Whether you see it in a dark way or light way. It is totally up to you. '

Do also see my 'Truth, lies and misrepresentations' concerning a speech given by Khaleda Zia

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