Democracy and fair elections are ‘inseparable twins’

Barrister Nazir Ahmed :
The whole nation was stunned, thundered and surprised having seen the accumulation of mountainous income and wealth of ruling party’s Members of Parliament (MPs), State Ministers and Ministers. The information that came in the media was, in fact, collected from their own declared information submitted (through affidavit) to the Election Commission with their nomination papers prior to the election of 5th January 2014. These were their declared income and wealth! Media has added nothing. They themselves and the Almighty God know how much undeclared money and wealth they have. The mountainous wealth of the MPs and Ministers accumulated through unprecedented corruption and misuse of power is the main reason why the government is desperate to cling on to power, for leaving power means they would have to face the music, the full force of law.
According to the reports of the Kaler Kantho, a widely circulated national daily of Bangladesh and a reputable citizens’ organisation called Shushashoner Janna Nagorik (SJN), Ruling Party’s Whip Noor-e-Alom Chowdhury has his income and wealth increased 32,985% during the last five years, State Minister Abdul Mannan Khan has his income and wealth increased 8,042% during the last five years, State Minister Mahbubur Rahman has his income and wealth increased 8,007% during the last five years. More or less similar pattern and scenario have been seen in relation to other MPs and Ministers. They are corrupted, blood suckers and sharks in extreme sense. They could not change the fate of the nation. So what? But they were successful in changing their own fate – their fourteen predecessors could live in luxurious life!
The Prime Minister, after forming her Cabinet five years ago, said “though most of my Ministers and State Ministers are new faces, they are honest.” Is it the sign of their honesty? It is a shame! There has been corruption in the past during the time of each and every government, both at small and large scale. But what the nation has seen in the last month or so has been unprecedented. They have sucked the blood of the nation. These blood suckers are public enemies of Bangladesh. What could the nation expect from them? The Prime Minister and her government gave the nation a so called ‘vision 2021’ five years ago. She declared another so called ‘vision 2041’ prior to the last election. What will happen to the nation if they are allowed to remain in power until 2021? And 2041? It is easily understandable and anticipatable. The nation will be fully sucked into ruin like some of the African countries. The nation must be aware and proactive before it is too late. May Almighty God protect our poor and vulnerable nation.  
The authentic reports of accumulating mountainous income and wealth by the Deputy Ministers, State Ministers, Ministers have shaken the entire nation. It is as if they had multiple aladin’s lamps at their hand during the last five years to make money and multiply their wealth, not only by hundreds, but to thousand times or more. They had their income and wealth increased from at least 100% to 32,985%! By accumulating mountainous income and wealth, the Deputy Ministers, State Ministers, Ministers blatantly violated the Constitution. Under the Constitution, they were barred from taking any paid employment or involved with any business activities. Article 147(3) of the Constitution says “No person appointed to or acting in any office to which this Article applies shall hold any office, post or position of profit or emolument or take any part whatsoever in the management or conduct of any company, association or body having profit or gain as its object.” Article 147(4) makes a list of the posts/positions that would come under this Article and the positions/posts of, among others, the Deputy Minister, the State Minister, the Cabinet Minister, the Deputy Speaker and the Speaker are included in this list. As such, they have all blatantly violated the Constitution.
What is the punishment of such gross/blatant violation of the Constitution? The Article 7A of the amended Constitution, after the Fifteenth Amendment made by the current government, has provided the answer. Under Article 7A(3) of the Constitution, the punishment is the highest punishment prescribed for other offences by the existing laws. And the highest punishment prescribed for other offences by the existing laws in Bangladesh is the death penalty. The government appears to have fallen into their own trap. It is certain that nothing will happen while they remain in power. But certainly they will not be able to control the future. Time may come when they have to face the consequences. Politicians had to face consequences in the past. For example, after the 1/11, many top politicians were put behind bars simply because there were inconsistency of their income and wealth with their declared sources. Fearing those consequences probably the MPs and Ministers had to declare, albeit limited, of their mountainous income and wealth.
Interestingly but not probably surprisingly, terming 5th January’s parliamentary polls as “constitutional requirement”, India on 6th January reiterated its position that the ‘democratic processes must be allowed to take their own course in Bangladesh.’ ‘Elections in Bangladesh on 5th January were a ‘constitutional requirement.’ They are a part of the internal and constitutional process of Bangladesh.’ Syed Akbaruddin, official spokesperson of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, said a day after the 10th General Election of its closest neighbour. India is totally wrong in the constitutional respect. Article 11 of the Constitution of Bangladesh, inter alia, says “The Republic shall be a democracy…………in which effective participation by the people through their elected representatives in administration at all levels shall be ensured.” Article 62(2) of the Constitution says “Parliament shall consist of three hundred members to be elected in accordance with law from single territorial constituencies by direct election….” The election held on 05 January 2014 was neither an effective participation by the people as envisaged by Article 11 of the Constitution nor was every member elected from single territorial constituencies by direct election as envisaged by Article 65(2) of the Constitution.
What kind of election it was? 153 out of 300 MPs were elected unopposed! That means more than half of the voters of the country were deprived of their basic, fundamental and constitutional rights. This is unprecedented in the world’s history of democracy. In the rest of 147 seats, actual voters’ turnout on the Election Day in literal sense was well below 5%. A State Minister’s son himself alone casted nearly 500 votes. In more than 40 voting centres not a single vote was casted! In numerous centres, there were no lines of voters (which are usual in participatory election in Bangladesh) seen: Poling Officers and Presiding Officers were seen sleeping or sitting idly. In other centres, the Polling and Presiding Officers themselves have taken responsibility to cast votes by their own hands! To make 147 MPs, more than 180 people were killed right from the day of announcement of the election schedule to the Election Day!
The various opinion polls (taken by neutral or government liening papers) prior to the last election have clearly showed that around 90% people of Bangladesh were against the election to be held under a party government. What democracy and ‘constitutional requirement’ India is talking about? The current government has been violating the Constitution at almost each and every step of their movement. Dozens of concrete examples of gross violation of the Constitution by the current government can be given. Parliament has not been dissolved: yet newly elected MPs have taken oath violating the Constitution. This has effectively made nearly 600 MPs in Bangladesh in places of 300! India is one of the largest democracies in the world. It should be ashamed for blindly supporting a government of ruthless dictator, extreme arrogance in attitudes, most unpopular in the history, worse autocratic in nature and, above all, gross violator of the Constitution in the name of so called ‘constitutional requirement.’ It is irony that only India and India alone has recognised 5th January’s election: no other country of the world has yet recognised the election to have held free, fair and credible.
Bangladesh is heading towards an unknown destination. No one knows what is going to happen in future. The country is being made ungovernable. The infrastructure has been collapsed and the government has lost its control over most part of the country. Election and voting process have been made a joke and laughable thing. When the nerve is severely damaged in a part of a body, it is impossible to bring it back to its original position. Similarly, the economy, law and order, rule of law and democracy are in verge of collapse in Bangladesh. Any future legitimate and proper democratic government will find it extremely hard to govern. The country is in verge of a civil war. The whole nation is, inadvertently and intentionally by the ruling party/alliance, divided into two camps: the government and its loyal and sympathisers/beneficiaries patronised by a big neighbour, and the rest of the entire nation. Civil war has already started in a limited scale in different districts of the country.
Bangladesh has 160 million people. The total population of Bangladesh is more than the population of Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, Iran, Kosovo, Libya, Sudan and Syria taken/counted together. A country with 160 million people is not a matter to be taken or considered lightly or passively. If a civil war is broken out in full scale, it will destabilise the whole South Asia, which will, in turn, affect the entire world. The world, therefore, must not keep blind eyes on Bangladesh. The international community must do before it is too late. Bosnia and Kosovo have lost hundreds of thousands of people because of the international communities’ delayed action. The international community should take lesson from the past history.  
5th January 2014 is the black day in the history of democracy in Bangladesh. Democracy, as defined by Abraham Lincoln as ‘a government, of the people, for the people and by the people,’ was dead in Bangladesh. In a democracy, people’s wishes, desires and expectation matter most. The current government of Bangladesh is not of the people of Bangladesh because the people could not freely participate in all constituencies in the mandate giving day. Similarly, the government cannot be by the people because the people could not freely exercise their fundamental constitutional rights of voting. If the government cannot be of the people and by the people, certainly it would not be for the people. The relationship between democracy and free and fair elections was best summed up in an Indian case [(2002) 8 SCC 237]: “Free, fair … elections are part of the basic structure of the Constitution…Democracy and free and fair elections are inseparable twins. There is almost an inseverable umbilical cord joining them. The little man’s ballot and not the bullet is the heart beat of democracy.”
There is a strong possibility that after the 5th January’s so called election, the government could emerge as a worst/ruthless dictator. Lord Acton said “power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The Prime Minister has already given stern warning to her opposition. The signs and symptoms are not good and healthy. There is a high possibility of commencing the state sponsored targeted killing, kidnapping and enforced disappearance of the opposition workers and leaders in Bangladesh similar or identical to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia or Kosovo. Some targeted killing and kidnapping have already started in different districts in the name of action of the joint forces. Widespread use of such tactics and techniques could be a catastrophe for the nation.
Therefore, the international community must keep an active eye on Bangladesh and intervene promptly, if necessary, before it becomes too late.

(Barrister Nazir Ahmed : Legal expert, analyst, writer and columnist. e-mail: [email protected])

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