10th national polls: An over-view

The electoral drill, conducted by the Election Commission (EC) that enabled 292 candidates to become members of the parliament has now come to an end. The chief and other members of the EC would be congratulated for arranging an election that the country has never experienced before. In 153 constituencies there was no electoral activities, thus 48.08 million voters were robbed of their right of franchise. The Prime Minister, the President, the Speaker and the Chief Election Commissioner were amongst them. In the remaining 147 constituencies 386 candidates contested but on the day of election about 30 candidates opted to withdraw from the race. Nonetheless 43.90 million voters had the option to choose their representatives. The insecurity and the absence of main opposition party in the electoral race lost the excitement of the exercise. Since the outcome of the day long polling was a foregone conclusion, people felt no exuberance to cast votes.
The media reported many centers having deserted looks on 5 January. The officers on duty were basking in the sun but remained greatly worried of their personal security. According to very generous estimate about 30% voters cast their votes including those who exercised their rights more than once.
By this estimate 78.82 million electorates did not or could not exercise their right of franchise. In other words 85% of the people stayed away from this electoral exercise. Now we have a parliament elected by only 15% of the electorates and the Awami League begged 13% votes. It remains to be seen how a government, borne out of this poor electoral endorsement, can govern the country.
The international community has unanimously rejected this electoral process and urged all parties to revert to a credible, inclusive and acceptable mechanism where people can choose their representatives.
The heavyweights of the ruling party have expressed satisfaction on the electoral exercise. In the post election press conference, the Prime Minister remarked that those who don’t believe in the independence of Bangladesh have boycotted the election. It could be referred that out of 41 registered political parties only 12 parties participated in the election. In the definition of the Prime Minister the remaining 29 parties don’t believe in independent Bangladesh. If so, why the EC which had absolute loyalty to her administration did not deregister these parties?
This includes the Communist Party and the parties led by Quader Siddiqi and ASM Abdur Rob. They were indeed involved in the liberation war. BNP has still many freedom fighters in its rank and files and it cannot be branded as anti Bangladesh. The heavy weights of the ruling party have tried to draw satisfaction that now a compliant opposition party in the parliament would emerge with whom they can share their joy and opportunities. They can aspire to put up a united front to excoriate the largest opposition party outside the parliament. It would mark a period of peace and tranquility for them. The lessons of history are however sadly different.
Following the reelection of Ayub Khan in 1965 the Muslim League was reigning supreme. In the National Assembly only eleven members, in the house of 150, got elected from the opposition. Their voice would hardly matter.
The senior leaders of the Awami League were imprisoned in mid 1966 and Banghabandu was implicated in the conspiracy to secure separation of Eastern wing from Pakistan. The activities of the party almost came to a halt.
The Muslim League government believed that the Awami League was politically pulverized and left with no strength to pose any challenge to the government.
There was a period of calm and “Decade of reforms” was celebrated with all fun fare. But hardly this celebration came to an end the regime collapsed. The absence of the opposition in the public forum is indeed an ominous sign. It would be prudent not to draw complacency on the weakness or fragmentation in the opposition parties.
On the eve of this week’s election, a friend of mine called me from Canada to remind that almost a similar exercise was carried out in the summer of 1971, following the disqualification of about 60 MNAs due to their involvement with the Bangladesh government. The junta decided to fill the vacancies through adjustment of seats amongst the PDP, Muslim League and the Jamate Islam. Notorious Rao Ferman Ali was tasked to get this selection in consultation with the leaderships of rightwing parties. The MNAs thus selected however, within weeks, landed in Dhaka Central Jail. They were set free after two years of imprisonment under general amnesty.
Beneath the rhetoric, the ruling party leaderships know very well how unhinged their support base stands now. They also know how isolated they are internationally following the convoluted election. No government can function effectively with such poor image at home abroad.
India would extend support but it would soon appear how egregious this support would be. People are already vexed at India’s water theft and terrorism at the border. Their anger would multiply with government’s continued hobnobbing with India. The Hindus, the Indian Express and other leading newspapers have questioned the wisdom of their government for extending support to a particular party in Bangladesh.
The election nonetheless has given the government much needed breathing space. The ruling party leaderships should seize the space and initiate meaningful dialogue with the opposition parties. The release of BNP leaders and workers and withdrawal of criminal cases lodged against them would be prerequisite to initiate credible dialogue.
Meanwhile Jatiya Party has enacted another political drama. The power mongers in the party have joined the cabinet but at the same time the former first lady, who had earlier staged a “coup de tat” in the party, became the Leader of the Opposition in the parliament. The party is still not contended.
It has sought more berths in the cabinet and demanded the job of the Deputy Speaker. Jatiya party has made space for itself both in the cabinet as well as in the opposition. This is an errant experiment unheard in any democracy.
BNP, the main opposition party should now take a pause and evaluate its strategy. It should take a critical look at how its agitation being perceived by the people and how it should conduct itself in future. BNP’s records of mass contact, its continued boycott of the parliament and failure to articulate the strategy of the movement have brought much discredit to its leaderships.
It could not defend its own “caretaker formula” when it was tabled in the parliament. Calling the government to resign a few months after it was formed, lack of interest to interact with the government counterparts and asking more seats in front rows of the parliament exposed political deficiency of the party.
The central working committee has miserably failed to provide guidance to its workers and now must make way for the young generation. The party needs overhauling from the central committee down to district levels with injection of young and committed faces. BNP must distance itself from the violence and pursue peaceful movement for restoration of democracy in the country. Begum Khaleda Zia still enjoys huge popularity.
She should launch mass contacts visiting outlaying districts; inspire the young acolytes and leaders to the goals of the party. The party cannot conduct itself in vacuum; it should develop a comprehensive manifesto outlining its future economic, trade and external relation and mobilize public in its favor.
The party should reiterate its commitment to parliamentary democracy, zero tolerance to corruption, strengthening institutions like the EC, ACC, and Judiciary, and depoliticize police and bureaucracy. The leadership should also pay attention to the practice of democracy within the party.
The dictatorship in the party promotes party dictatorship in the country. The present crisis in the country is the corollary of one person rule in the ruling party as well as in the opposition parties. Apostasy of dictatorship should be practiced in all layers of political organizations.
(The author is a former official of the United Nations)

Your email address will not be published.