Bangladesh's shaky government faces food shortage
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Political observers ticno match in dynamism to the 45-year-old Zia, who saw himself as the key mover behind the country's development efforts. While the ruling Bangladesh National Party that Zia founded was at his command, it has split into quarreling factions under Sattar.Skip to next paragraph
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The move to reduce the cabinet last week was an attempt to rid the administration of corruption and ineptitude, President Sattar said in a nationally broadcast speach.''Most of those who sit at the helm of state affairs have failed to fulfill the hope and aspirations of the people and I admit that consequently the country and the nation face a serious crisis,'' he said. ''The overall situation in the country has deteriorated.''
The economy is foundering under the burden of heavy oil import bills and falling export revenues. An International Monetary Fund loan, suspended to check the country of its spending habits, has yet to be restored.
''The country is in the doldrums, development-wise and politically,'' says an international aid representative. Many Bangladeshis believe it is only a matter of time until the military stages a takeover.
Lieutenant General H. M. Ershad, the Army commander, was the key player in the orderly transfer of power after Zia was gunned down by Army mutineers last May. Denying any personal ambitions, General Ershad is insisting on a military role in the government -- without spelling out what he has in mind.
The developing crisis centers on the military's power-sharing demand, first voiced a month before the November presidential election in an interview with a British journalist. General Ershad called for constitutional changes to give the military an active involvement in the country's administration. It needed a sense of participation, he said, to keep it from being frustrated - and to prevent a possible coup attempt.
Sattar's answer in his first post-election statement was a flat ''no.'' The army's job is to defend the borders, he said, and has no other function in a democratic country.
But Ershad kept up the pressure. In November, he reiterated demands for a special military role in government through press interviews and in a lengthy public statement released to local newspapers.
The passionate, rambling statement reiterated the military's commitment to democracy and constitutional processes. But it made no specific suggestions, leaving political observers puzzled.
Sattar's response, early in January, was an offer of seats for the Army, Navy , and Air Force service chiefs on a ten-member national security council, whose powers, he specified, would be strictly advisory. Ershad pronounced the offer ''unacceptable,'' because civilian members on the council would outnumber the military.
Informed sources said both sides are trying to cool down their conflict and are examining the possibility of a smaller council that would exclude four or five of the civilians.
With Bangladesh entering a period of intense economic difficulty, the question now is how long a compromise would work. There is one thing few doubt: that the Sattar government will fall if it fails to bring in and distribute enough donated or purchased grain from overseas to meet the shortage.