Bangladesh: Ending reservations in Government jobs
Earlier this month, the Bangladesh government decided to end the system of quota in government. The decision came in the aftermath of a major, country-wide student agitation demanding reform in the system, with capital Dhaka coming to a near-standstill. There was initial jubilation in the country as it was seen as a victory for the protesting students but it also left an open question about the rights of the women, ethnic minorities and physically challenged.
The reservation in government jobs had its roots in the policy for recruitment to public service adopted in September 1972. The major objective behind the introduction of this system was to achieve equitable representation of the residents of all the districts in various services and posts. Under the system, 56 percent of the jobs in the government was reserved for decedents of freedom-fighters, women, physically-challenged persons, ethnic minorities and for backward districts. The remaining 44 percent of the jobs were open to all.
Resentment against the present system was brewing for a long time and there were demands for reviewing the system. A popular argument against the quota system was that it was discriminatory, and the meritorious were finding it harder to get appropriate jobs. Earlier, there were demands for reviewing it but the government did not touch the issue, fearing a major political backlash because the biggest beneficiary of the quota system were the descendants of freedom-fighters who are still the major support base of the present-day ruling party, namely, the Awami League.
The major demands of the agitating student included the introduction of unified age limit in government jobs, review of the quota system in the recruitment process, including Bangladesh Civil Services (BCS) examination, filling vacant posts from merit list if the candidates could not be found from the quota categories, and reducing the reservations to 10 percent from 56.
The scrapping of the entire system of quota came as a major surprise to many. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in her speech in Parliament, said if people do not want it, the government will get rid of it. The students wanted a review of the system, not complete abolition.
However, rights groups have expressed reservations on the government decision and the implications on opportunities for women, physically- challenged and ethnic minorities. They have argued that the quota system could not be scrapped in its entirety because of the constitutional obligations. As they argue, the Constitution stands to ensure equal rights for all citizens. Hence, the rights groups are demanding special provisions for ensuring the rights of women, small ethnic groups and disadvantaged communities.
The agitation against quota is not dissociated from politics. Some claims have been made about the the Islami Chhatra Shibir, the student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious political party, in instigating students. Although the legitimacy of the claim is waiting to be proved, it can be recalled that religious groups had raised objection to job-reservation for women earlier. In a country like Bangladesh where the government remains a major employer, issues like reservations is a potent tool to gather popular support against the incumbent.
With the current step, the government might have been able to defuse a major crisis. Had it not responded in time, this might have had a spiralling effect. However, challenges for the government might not be over yet as some analysts feels that the current decision has established a negative precedence in the country and could have a major impact in future -- that any policy of the government could be forced to be changed through street-protests.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)
Maldives: Ahead of presidential polls, West going slow on Yameen?
N Sathiya Moorthy
Through separate but related developments, involving the UNHRC and the EU, the international community (read:
West) seems to have resigned to the possibility/inevitability of talking Maldivian democracy with incumbent Abdulla Yameen even after the presidential polls, scheduled for September-October. If it came to that, India as the immediate but recently-estranged neighbour may have to work ways to overcome the current deadlock in bilateral ties, in its own way, or work on alternatives with or without western compliance.
After the recently-concluded bi-annual session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), the committee reiterated the West’s known position, demanging the Yameen Government to restore the civic rights of former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed. He was jailed at home, based on a court verdict, and is self-exiled overseas, with ‘political asylum’, granted by the UK.
Acting on Nasheed’s twin petitions over the past years, the UNHRC committee has set a 180-day deadline for Maldives to file a compliance report. It is not about the reiteration of the UN/UNHRC’s earlier demands/directions in the ‘Nasheed case’, but about the deadline.
This is because the presidential poll might well have passed the UNHRC deadline (ending in mid-October), what with the Maldives Election Commission’s announcing long ago the tentative poll schedule – nominations in August, first-round polls in September, and a second, run-off round, if required, the next month.
If nothing else, the nominations would have closed by August. Even the elections would be stretched to October if and only if there is a second, run-off round. Under the Maldivian scheme, a second round becomes mandatory only if no candidate gets a 50-percent-plus vote-share in the first round.
In such a scenario, the top two from the first round face a second round, where again the 50-percent mark is the clincher. It happened in the previous two presidential polls of 2008 and 2013, under the current, multi-party, democracy scheme. How, it plays out in the prevailing political situation, given the ground realities, remains to be seen.
Not done enough
Alongside the UNHRC, the European Union (EU), which was even more vociferous about ‘democracy issues’ in Maldives, going as far as to threaten ‘sanctions’ targeting the nation’s revenue-earning resort tourism industry, too, seems to be going soft on the Yameen leadership just now. For one, the EU has decided not to make Maldives an ‘agenda’ item at next month’s Council meeting, which should have otherwise send out a strong message in the long run-up to the presidential polls.
After being reportedly upset over Yameen not receiving an EU team earlier this year, the organisation seemed satisfied when he obliged a second one not very long after – that too, when his controversial Emergency proclamation was in operation. Even while sticking to their position on the need for restoring the civic rights issues attaching to their ‘denial’ to Nasheed, the EU has since started speaking about larger concerns of electoral reforms.
A recent EU statement thus spoke about the Government, Parliament and the Opposition not doing enough to implement the recommendations of the EU observer team for the parliamentary polls of 2014, held under the Yameen presidency. Yet, the EU wants to send out an observer team for the upcoming presidential polls, too, given the inherent sense of democracy of and in member-nations, which dictates their third-country relations after a point.
Just now, indications are that the EU may oblige Yameen’s keenness to prove the ‘fairness’ of the presidential poll, by sending in an observer’s team all over again. Yet, geography dictates that any observer team from outside Maldives would have to depend either on government agencies or Opposition, media and other independent, local and localised source, or all of them, for information on poll violations of any and every kind.
It is not unlikely that such an observer team from the EU might still have enough reasons, causes and justification to report on allegations of malfeasance in the upcoming presidential polls, and even recommend a review/re-poll. That is all in the future, if and when the EU sends out a team in the first place and the Yameen Government accepts their presence and participation – as observers.
Should the EU still send out an observer team after all it could cut both ways. The very fact of an observer team on the ground, even while checking on the veracity of Maldivian EC claims, would indicate the European Union’s acceptance of the status quo
, however reluctant or far-fetched the decision.
All of it raises questions about India’s stand, too – if it has overdone the ‘pro-democracy’ posture on Maldives to the point of making it look anti-Yameen, and pro-Nasheed even more. If the current perceptions about the more recent postures are to be considered, India too may have to revisit its position, and rework strategies to address emerging realities on the ground – and without either losing the ‘democracy initiative’ or face in the South Asian neighbourhood as a whole.
This does not mean that the Maldivian presidential poll can be pre-judged and sealed, as in any (other) autocratic State, as some in the Yameen camp and more in the international community might have thought. The Maldivian voter might have a mind of his own, and the presence of a non-partisan observer team(s) may well end up ensuring that they have their say, and get heard, too.
This is so despite the fact that Yameen has ensured that prospective candidates, including Nasheed, Gayoom and Gaim Ibrahim, all Opposition heavy-weights at present, are not allowed to contest. He started the process early on, by introducing an upper-age limit for presidential candidates, that too with the parliamentary backing of Nasheed’s MDP. That got Gayoom and Gasim out of the way.
Nasheed was already facing the music in the otherwise forgotten ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’ after his MDP overnight launched rallies just one year after Yameen’s ascension, demanding his immediate exit. Even a maximum sentence of three years under the criminal law, followed by three years of post-imprisonment bar would have ensured that Nasheed could not contest Elections-2018 now.
The conversion of the trial into an even more controversial ‘terrorism case’ under a near- forgotten law of 1989, followed by 13 year jail-term, Nasheed obtaining medical leave for spinal surgery in London and his obtaining ‘political asylum’ in the UK have all ensured that he cannot contest the presidential polls. If someone thought that the equally controversial 1 February 2018 ‘unanimous order’ of the Supreme Court freeing all ‘political prisoners’, would save the day for Nasheed especially, it was not to be, either.
In between, Yameen had added to the list of the ‘forcibly disqualified’ his own ministerial colleagues. Defence Minister, veteran army officer, Col Mohamed Nazim, was arrested on a coup charge, while Home Minister, Umar Naseer, quit office, into possible oblivion. They too should have benefited from the SC order, but then the arrest of two Judges on the Bench, including Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, has restored the ‘status quo ante’
, if the withdrawal of the order by a truncated three-Judge Bench is anything to go by.
Yameen did not spare personally-chosen running-mates and vice-presidential nominees, either Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, Yameen’s chosen running-mate in Elections-2013, is in self-exile, possibly deserted since by the Nasheed camp, too, while successor, Ahmed Adheeb is cooling his heels in prison, for attempt to assassinate President Yameen. Of course, the two cases are entirely different. Incumbent Vice-President, Abdulla Jihad, a successful Finance Minister under successive government, is more of a technocrat and less of a politician.
Other aspirant candidates too have been facing pressures from the government, in the form of arrests and tax-raids, etc. The fact also remains that in Maldives, as in many other Third World democracies, most political aspirants are as corrupt as they are being made out to be – and they also have not found ways to hide their ‘ill-gotten wealth’ away from the prying eyes of the authorities, if the latter chose to act, whatever the political reason or motivation.
Yet, there could still be a ‘surprise, last-minute candidate’, whom the nation could root for, if the voter decided to see Yameen out. Of course, a lot would depend on the willingness of the otherwise divided four-party Joint Opposition (JO) to agree to a name, and their ability to ‘market’ a lesser-known face across the nation, with limited time and financial resources at their disposal, that too after the nominations open.
It is not about the denial of right of candidacy to individuals, but is all about the collective will of the electorate, upward of 18 years of age. As in the last two presidential elections, an enthusiastic youthful electorate can make or unmake governments, as they did in 2008 – to the utter surprise and unpreparedness of Gayoom, the incumbent for 30 long years who had got used to being President.
In such a scenario, a honest international team of observers could do a lot by ensuring that the elections were free and fair, whether or not there was a ‘level-playing field’ for Nasheed, the favourite of the West, to contest. Those questions could be addressed and ‘satisfactory answers’ found, if and when Yameen got replaced through the democratic model elections, which the nation is still experimenting with – and cannot be allowed to falter!
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)
Masoom Stanikzai, Chief of the National Directorate of Security, or Afghan Intelligence, is facing parliamentary impeachment over the deteriorating security situation in the country. However, it has been reported that the government is to intervene to prevent the same. The government stated that the Lower House is not empowered to impeach the Intelligence chief. Amongst the lawmakers of the Lower House mixed reactions are found; one segment calls the decision illegal and the other is in favour of it.
Multi-billion irrigation plan
The Afghan Ministry of Agriculture Irrigation and Livestock announced plans to build irrigation projects worth 2.5 billion AFs to bring water under control in agricultural lands across the country. This will also help manage water resources and prevent wastage. Thirty per cent of the budget of the ministry has been allocated for it, as lack of rain and snow this winter seriously affected Afghan agriculture. This comes as farmers in various regions continue using tradition methods for cultivation.
Hydro projects from India
As part of India’s reconstruction projects in Afghanistan, New Delhi has shown interest in helping Afghanistan build two new hydro-electricity projects in Kapisa and the Kabul provinces. The Bagh Dara dam at Kapisa will generate 300 MW of power and the Sarobi Dam Phase-II in Kabul is to generate 100 MW.
China for peaceful poll
China wants to see a peaceful transition of power in Bangladesh through a smooth general election, according to Li Guangjun, the economic and commercial counsellor at the Chinese Embassy in Dhaka. Li said that China hopes the election in Bangladesh scheduled later this year would be peaceful, smooth and stable. He said that China was concerned in the matter as many Chinese people and companies are involved in trade and business with Bangladesh, and had high investments, as well.
Hasina, Modi meet
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina met her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi in London this week, on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Summit and discussed various issues of bilateral interest. Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said that issues, including Rohingya and Teesta, were discussed. The two sides also discussed the inauguration of "Bangladesh House" at Biswa Bharati University in of West Bengal and the possibilities of the two prime ministers attending the ceremony.
BNP crisis deepens
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina this week informed that Bangladesh wants repatriation of opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s (BNP) acting chairperson Tarique Rahman, convicted by a Bangladesh court but has been residing in the UK since 2007. The Prime Minister said that her government was in talks with the British counterpart about it and she was hopeful about the return of Tarique Rahman. The return of Rahman will have implications for Bangladesh politics, as his mother and party chief, Begum Khaleda Zia is already in prison, on corruption charges.
PM visits Japan
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, during a five-day official visit to Japan from 11-15 April, held wide-ranging discussions on bilateral relations and international issues of mutual interest and concern. In his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, Tobgay sought Japan’s continued support to agriculture, infrastructure development, information technology and rural development and employment. The Prime Minister also met Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito.
No job for molesters
Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay has severely condemned the recent incidents in which a vice-principal was arrested for molesting and sexually assaulting nine girl students and an anaesthesia technician for alleged rape of a patient’s attendant. Tobgay has asked the Office of the Attorney-General to relook into the security clearance guidelines so that no person indicted for rape, sexual harassment and molestation, especially of a minor, should be given the clearance for any work.
Plea to cancel land deal
The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in an evidence hearing on 13 and 16 April requested the Trongsa dzongkhag court to restitute the 4.70 acres of land under Nubi geowg, where the wife of former dzongdag Lhab Dorji has constructed a resort. The ACC also requested the court to declare null and void, the land transaction between the landowner Gyelmo and the wife of former dzongdag.
Move to impeach CJI
Over 60 MPs, led by the Opposition Congress Party in the Rajya Sabha, have submitted a motion to impeach Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, on the 18th
of April. Though the move came a day after the Supreme Court rejected a bunch of petitions seeking an independent probe into the death of Judge B H Loya, who was hearing the ‘Sohrabuddin Sheikh encounter case’, where ruling BJP president Amit Shah was among the original accused, the Opposition clarified that they had been discussing the same for weeks now, and had sought an appointment for the purpose with Rajya Sabha Chairman and Vice-President, M Venkaiah Naidu, over a week back.
HC acquits Maya Kodnani
The Gujarat High Court on 18 April acquitted Maya Kodnani, the former BJP minister in the Naroda Patya riot case in which 97 people, mainly women and children, were killed following the Godhra riots. The court, however, upheld the life imprisonment sentence of Bajrang Dal leader, Babu Bajrangi.
PM at CHOGM
On a two-nation visit of Sweden and the UK, Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at London, and also conferred with British counterpart Theresa May at 10 Downing Street. In Sweden, Moi met his Swedish counterpart, Stefan Lofven apart from attending the India-Nordic summit. With Sweden, India intends to enhance defence cooperation and Modi’s flagship ‘smart cities’ project.
West softening stand against present Govt?
Even as the UNHRC has reiterated its charges on the political and civic rights of jailed and self-exiled former President Mohammed Nasheed, by giving the Government of President Abdulla Yameen 180 days to file a compliance report, the international community may have softened the stand against the incumbent, what with the presidential polls, scheduled for September-October, concluding by then. Alongside, the EU, which has always been tough on Yameen on the human rights and democracy issues, has since repeated those charges and at the same time, attacked all Maldivian stake-holders in no following up on its observers’ team at the end of 2014 parliamentary polls – naming the Opposition, alongside the Government and Parliament for such failure.
Refugee camp flooded
A brief but heavy downpour turned roads into quagmires in the world's largest refugee camp, hindering relief efforts and hinting at the danger ahead for the Rohingya who have sought refuge from violence in Myanmar. Last season, heavy rain triggered mud slips in Cox's Bazar and nearby Chittagong Hill Tracts, killing at least 170 people. More than 100 died in landslides in the region in 2012, and two years earlier heavy downpours killed around 50.
Ties with Vietnam
Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc and visiting State Counselor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi agreed on 19 April to further deepen bilateral trade and investment. The two leaders vowed to further boost political and diplomatic collaboration via facilitating all-level visits and people-to-people exchange, the report said quoting the Vietnam News Agency. They also pledged to extend collaboration in military medicine, search and rescue, sport exchange, and agreed to hold the deputy ministerial-level defense policy dialogue in 2018.
Scheme for crop insurance
It is the first time a crop insurance scheme is being implemented in the country. The insurance is mainly offered by state-owned Myanma Insurance and a smattering of private insurance companies. One of the challenges to implementing crop insurance is setting a suitable premium rates as there is no existing bench-mark or even a qualified actuary to measure risk levels in the country’s insurance sector.
FM for China
Nepali Foreign Minister Pradip Gyawali is undertaking a five-day visit to China from 23 April. A wide-range of bilateral issues, including to connectivity issues and economic collaboration and tourism, will feature during the discussions. This friendship would automatically foster apprehensions for India as well.
The partnership between Prime Minister K. P Sharma Oli and CPN (Maoist Center) Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has already created a massive vote bank as witnessed during the elections. After the passage of these post ballot months, a meeting was held between the two on a one-on-one basis to continue the bond with such strength and integrity. The primary idea is to generate a stable consensus –building process for the overall development of the country as a whole.
Defence budget up
The federal budget for the new fiscal year allocates around 23 percent of the proposed budget to the defence needs of the country, a 10-percent surge from the previous year’s allocation. On 17 April, the cabinet approved the Armed Forces Development Plan and passed Pak Rs 1.1 trillion for regular defence budget and another PRs 100 billion for Armed Forces Development Programme. However, government’s debts are also on the rise, with Rs 1.607 trillion or 30.7 percent of the budget earmarked for debt-servicing. According to a cabinet minister, defence and debt-servicing expenditure will consume around 53.7 percent of the total budget.
Failing on human rights
According to the report released by Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the government has failed badly in securing basic human rights for its citizens. The report claims that blasphemy laws continue to be misused, especially against dissidents with cases of mere accusations of blasphemy leading to deadly mob violence. While deaths related to acts of terrorism has decreased, attacks against country’s minority communities was on the rise. The report stated that crimes against women was rising and that religious institutions continue to resist laws giving women more rights and aimed at curbing violence.
The Sindh Forest Department has set world record by planting 1,129,294 mangroves on an island in Keti Bunder in Thatta district of Sindh. Pakistan People’s Party’s chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah also participated in the plantation drive. The department using the navy’s tidal data selected 19 April as the most suitable day on which the maximum amount of daylight could be availed.
Opposition moots 20-A
Not overly upset over the defeat of the no-confidence motion (NCM) against Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, the SLPP-JO has extended support to the JVP’s draft 20th
Amendment to the Constitution, calling for an end to the existing Executive Presidency system of Government, accompanied by fresh elections. As with the NCM, the JO seems aimed at exposing the inherent divisions within the ruling UNP-SLFP combine even more with the fresh move, and at the same time, challenge their credibility after the ruling alliance had promised the same ahead of Elections-2015.
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Afghanistan Times, “Honey production gets momentum”, 19 April 2018
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Laksiri Fernando, “Has the colonial diarchy come to Sri Lanka again?”, The Island, 20 April 2018
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Kusal Perera, “Castes and votes”, Daily Mirror Online, 20 April 2018
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N Sathiya Moorthy, “Learning it from Bangladesh”, Ceylon Today, 18 April 2018
Gomin Dayasiri, “Clowns in politics cause hiccups”, Daily Mirror Online, 18 April 2018
Ranga Jayasuriya, “Is the UNP losing after winning the NCM?”, Daily Mirror Online, 18 April 2018
Jehan Perera, “President and PM need to reach agreement, now!”, The Island, 17 April 2018
Ahilan Kadirgamar, “Inequality and the political crisis”, Daily Mirror Online, 17 April 2018
N Sathiya Moorthy, “A bull, a buffalo – and a cart!”, The Island, 17 April 2018
Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, “The UNP-SLFP merger and the Mahinda-Ranil choice”, The Island, 17 April 2018
Dr Joyeeta Bhattacharjee
Maldives & Sri Lanka:
N Sathiya Moorthy
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