The new cabinet promises change -- for the better
This past week, 47 individuals were appointed to the new cabinet led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, comprising of 24 ministers, 19 state ministers, and three deputy ministers.
Two thirds of the cabinet is comprised of new faces, which, in hindsight, is a bold step taken by a prime minister set to serve her fourth term in office. The Awami League has formed a third consecutive government under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina -- a feat which is rare in parliamentary democracies.
Given the nature of the recently concluded elections, it is without a doubt that citizens in this country and political stakeholders, particularly the youth, will have a close eye on how our ministers perform in the next five years.
With Sheikh Hasina slated to serve a record 20 years as the prime minister, I am of the opinion that a large portion of her legacy is going to be determined by how her cabinet colleagues govern their respective ministries.
From a wider angle, this cabinet was formed following what was a controversial, but participatory, election -- participatory in the sense that all major political actors were part of the electoral process and voters generally had a deep interest in exercising their democratic rights.
Now, whether the opposition and voters can do so in a conducive manner is a question to which there remain divergent answers. As such, whilst I believe that a participatory election did indeed take place, to suggest that the polls embodied the essence of a free, fair, and neutral exercise embodied in the spirit of constitutional democracy is a stretch.
Nevertheless, a civilian government has been appointed by the president. It is expected to govern the country in the next five years. And the prime minister and her cabinet will lead the country and oversee two crucial nationwide celebrations -- the 50th anniversary of an independent Bangladesh, and the 100th birthday of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Given these circumstances, it is expected that the consortium of citizens, civil society leaders, the media, and the opposition, will be watching the activities of the government with a keen interest -- and one hopes they do so by demanding accountability at every step.
To the surprise of many, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina brought in several new faces to the cabinet at the cost of leaving out many of her most trusted and experienced colleagues.
The likes of Matia Chowdhury, Tofail Ahmed, AMA Muhith, and Amir Hossain Amu have served the Awami League with distinction for a long period of time, and their contributions to the national development of the country should not only be respected, but celebrated. To them, we owe our gratitude.
And whatever one’s views are regarding her style of governance, Sheikh Hasina is someone who, in my opinion, has reached the pinnacle of effective political decision-making.
Bangladesh has an ever-increasing youth population which demands change and the decision to phase out a big chunk of the old guard should be welcomed. Prioritizing competence in the appointment process is another crucial issue.
A career diplomat and a former president of UNICEF, AK Abdul Momen is set to serve as the foreign minister -- especially crucial when considering the enhanced position of Bangladesh in the global socio-economic circle.
Furthermore, Sheikh Hasina’s continued faith in two technocrats -- Mustafa Jabbar (Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications, and Information Technology) and Yeafesh Osman (Ministry of Science and Technology), indicates her willingness to enhance the scope of science and technology in the country.
Both ministries under their respective leadership have performed well, and it is good to see them back in the cabinet.
The appointment of Dr Dipu Moni also brings in an added dynamism to the cabinet. As an educated and experienced public health and legal expert, one hopes that Dr Moni can lead from the front, when it comes to addressing the severe frailties of our education system.
The sidelining of some ministers from the past government may be seen as a sign that it is time for the cabinet to be warier about their activities, and work in line with the constitutional mandate that they have sworn an allegiance to.
However, there are certain disappointing features. Only three of the ministers are female -- this is concerning, given that 50% of the electorate is comprised of women. 22 of the new cabinet members are businessmen -- yet again showcasing the interconnectedness of wealth, business, and politics.
However, politics is about compromise, and one hopes that these factors are addressed and the ministers are held accountable. Decentralizing governance at the cabinet level, empowering her colleagues, and rewarding individuals for yielding positive results will go a long way in determining how the future generation perceives the current government.
In retrospect, this is a turning point -- a majority of the stalwarts of the party have been asked to move onto different phases in their political careers.
But this should be clear -- the recent election was not one free of controversy. Therefore, when it comes to issues like freedom of speech, curbing corruption, and protecting the rule of law, merely riding on the slogan of development, without respecting the values of democracy, will not bode well for the new ministers.
We wish them the best of luck, but would like to remind them that when it comes to ensuring effective governance and performing their duties, the people will hold them accountable.
We will not be afraid to speak our minds and be vocal about the wrongs we see, nor will we refrain from applauding their efforts if we see progress. Their future remains in our hands.
Mir Aftabuddin Ahmed is a recent graduate of arts, economics, and international relations from the University of Toronto.