Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has said she does not have any problem to have tea with her arch rival Khaleda Zia though the opposition leader, her sons and cabinet members had tried to kill her through grenade attacks on August 21, 2004.
“I like tea and I’ve no problem to have tea with Khaleda Zia… we’ve always been flexible time and again for the welfare of the country’s people…” she said.
The Prime Minister said this replying to a query of a journalist whether she would be a bit more flexible ahead of the next general election during her press briefing at the Bangladesh Permanent Mission at the United Nations on Saturday afternoon.
“Is there anyone in Bangladesh who is more flexible than me?” she told the journalist.
Urging Khaleda Zia to part with the war criminals and stands in favour of their trial, the Prime Minister on the opposition leader to come to parliament and discuss how she wants the next general election to take place.
“Please come (Khaleda Zia) to parliament and discuss issues. We’ve proved that free, fair and neutral elections are possible, and we want credible polls. Make it clear how you want the election to be held?” she said.
Alleging that the BNP chairperson had created a crisis in the country to save the war criminals, Hasina said, “If the opposition leader leaves her association with the war criminals and stands in favour of the trial, then there would be no crisis in the country.”
The premier also criticised the opposition leader for celebrating August 15 as her birthday although on this day back in 1975 Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated along with most of his family members.
“The day she (Khaleda) started celebrating August 15 as her birthday from that day I came to know she doesn’t want me alive,” Hasina said listing various attempts to kill her during the BNP-Jamaat alliance government, including the grenade attack on a rally on August 21, 2004, leaving 22 AL leaders killed and many more injured. “I’m ready to make any kind of sacrifice for the sake of the country’s people.”
Hasina said Khaleda Zia as a leader of the opposition should join parliament session and there is nothing to invite her. “But, I’ll urge her to join parliament and want her to clearly say what see wants.”
Asked whether she see any crisis before the next election, the Prime Minister replied in the negative and criticised the so-called civil society members, including former bureaucrats, for foreseeing a crisis.
“There has been a set of people who had always tried to create crisis so that their importance increases…if there’s any abnormal situation then their importance gets enhanced,” she said adding, “You’re maligning Awami League and me, and by doing that those who will take over power will be the protectors of the war criminals.”
Reaffirming her commitment that the next general election would be held in a free, fair and neutral manner, Hasina said, “We would get seats the way people would cast their votes for us and I can guarantee that the next general election would be held in a free, fair and neutral manner. Some 5,777 elections at different tiers took place during the present government and no one could write a single negative word in this regard.”
Citing that the AL-backed candidates in the five city corporation polls could not win despite their massive development activities, she urged people to vote not with the expectation of immediate reward but with the hope of sustainable progress.
Hasina said that if all, including the political parties, concentrate on the next parliamentary polls following the constitution then there would be an understanding.
She went on: “We want to hold the next general election and transfer power through a constitutional and democratic process. We’ve to start the process of transferring power constitutionally from a certain point, or else, what we’re going to leave for our future generation and citizens? If we fail to maintain the continuity of democracy, then it’ll only harm people.”
The Prime Minister said that Bangladesh never witnessed peaceful handover of power except the previous Awami League government during its 1996-2001 tenure. “Apart from this, every time there was unconstitutional way of power handover.”
Insisting that all will have to acknowledge that the elections held under the present government were fair, Hasina said that those would be elected for whom people would cast their votes. “We don’t play with elections and would never want to do that. We want to strengthen democracy.”
Asked when the verdicts of the war crimes cases will be executed, Hasina said that the matter is not up to her. “Our judiciary is totally independent…the verdicts would be executed Inshallah. The law will take its own course and there’s nothing to put pressure in this regard.”
Claiming that Bangladesh’s media is now enjoying greater freedom than any other countries, she asked why the media is reluctant to portray the massive development activities of her government. “Why the opposition is so scared despite winning so many polls under the present government?” she questioned.
About the long march in protest against the proposed Rampal coal-fired power plant project, the Prime Minister said the project would not harm the environment, especially in the Sundarbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest.
She also termed the long-march as politically motivated as its main aim is to deter the establishment of the power plant.
Foreign Minister Dr Dipu Moni, Bangladesh permanent representative to the UN AK Abdul Momen were, among others, present at the briefing.