Mohammed Shahabuddin has taken charge as the 22nd president of Bangladesh at a time when the people of the country are still in a festive mood on the occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr. It is a moment when the majority of the people of this country - who are Muslims by religion – forget all differences and stand together to pray.

After the prayer, they all together raise their hands wishing for the welfare of the country and the countrymen. They exchange greetings, embrace each other and shake hands. They visit each other’s houses to meet and greet. A sense of brotherhood and solidarity is observed across the country.

Although, from this perspective, Shahabuddin’s assumption of responsibility as the president was in a lucky moment, the country as a whole is going through a very challenging moment – an extremely critical period when there is a chaotic situation in all spheres.

Unrest continues in politics regarding the national election to be held at the end of the year. There are sharp differences between incumbents and aspirants over the electoral system. And it created an opportunity for world powers to actively step into the field to arbitrate.

This can never be pleasant for a self-respecting nation.

More than half-a-century has passed since the independence of the country, but unfortunately, we as a nation have not yet acquired the maturity to settle our disputes through mutual discussion.

There is also another aspect of the crisis that the country is passing through. The uni-polar world order that emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union, centred on the United States, is now being challenged by an alliance of Russia and China. China’s growing military and economic power and ambition to lead the world as a superpower is not letting the US and its allies sleep.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, in this photograph from July 2019. Credit: Reuters.

Therefore, the US is increasingly seeking to build a strong anti-China coalition in the Asia-Pacific region, where it wants to get India, the main regional rival of China, as well as Bangladesh beside it.

On the other hand, there is the long-held tension between the big neighbours India and China over Bangladesh.

Thus, Bangladesh has become very important to these regional and global powers due to its location, and each of them has come under a test of strength to include or keep Bangladesh by its side.

For a small country like Bangladesh, this tug-of-war of regional and global powers can be both a blessing and a curse at the same time. On the one hand, if it could be handled properly, Bangladesh can take advantage and make great progress in various fields.

On the other hand, Bangladesh is regularly under multifarious pressures from them and, in many cases, their mutual interests conflict so that Bangladesh often has to be between the horns of a dilemma while dealing with them.

For Bangladesh, it is a very delicate issue, and even though Bangladesh has long been able to tactfully balance them, the situation has now turned to a point where it may prove difficult to keep everyone satisfied.

First and foremost, the thing that is needed most at the moment to deal with this situation is strong national unity.

When the people are united in the interest of the country and stand beside it, it becomes much easier for the ruling government to face any challenge – be it internal or external.

Unfortunately, today the nation is deeply divided. Dissension can explode at any moment like a wildfire. To come out of this predicament, the nation needs a personality, acceptable to all sides, who can bring the conflicting parties to a table of negotiation and arrange a compromise at this critical juncture.

Shahabuddin could be that person. Barring one or two notable exceptions, by tradition, any party in this country nominates a tested and committed member of the party as the presidential candidate.

Yet, legally, a person no longer belongs to a party after being elected president. It largely depends on an individual’s inherent personality, charismatic leadership, and long-standing ethical standards and practices.

Although, according to the constitution, the president in this country has little executive power, he holds the highest rank in the state and is considered to be a neutral institution, giving him a special significance because of his position.

Therefore, being the newly appointed president, Shahabuddin has the opportunity to play an important role in bringing about reconciliation between the conflicting parties in this critical period of the country.

All that is required is sincere goodwill, personable presence, and careful steps. No one is born a leader in the world; it is the environment and circumstances that create leadership. Can Shahabuddin appear as a saviour to meet the demands of the nation at this juncture?

This article was first published on Dhaka Tribune.

Dr Mohammad Didare Alam Muhsin is Professor and Chairman, Department of Pharmacy, Jahangirnagar University.