Mohammad Pervez Bilgrami
In the midst of deepening conflict between the incumbent Awami Leauge and the principal opposition, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Bangladesh government went through as per its own plan and conducted the 10th general election on January 5, 2013.
Sunday was the culmination of almost two years’ long confrontations between the incumbent Awami League and the main opposition Party, BNP. The BNP refused to participate in the elections after the government had rejected its demand to put in place a non-partisan caretaker government to oversee the election process, which had been a law as well as a custom since 1996 general election, and was precisely seen as a protection against any possible manipulation of the government.
To understand the root cause of the political turmoil in Bangladesh, we need to revisit the history and comprehend the reasons behind the emergence of non-partisan caretaker government in Bangladesh, particularly during its election process. After the full restoration of democracy, Bangladesh saw its first multi-party general election in 1991, in which Bangladesh Nationalist Party had emerged victorious by bagging 140 seats out of total 300 and formed the government with its alliance partners.
In March 1994, there had emerged a controversy over a parliamentary by-election, which was alleged to have been rigged by the ruling BNP as claimed by the Awami League, the–then principal opposition. That had led to an indefinite boycott of Parliament by the entire opposition. The opposition had also initiated a program of repeated general strikes and blockades to press its demand for resignation of Khaleda Zia's government and putting in place a non-partisan caretaker government to supervise the next general election.
When the BNP rejected the opposition’s demand and held the sixth national parliamentary election in Bangladesh on 15 February, 1996, it was boycotted by most of the opposition parties. Consequently, with the turnout of the voters being as low as 21%, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party won all the 300 seats in parliament. Obviously, it was a one-sided victory.
In March 1996, following escalating political turmoil, the sitting Parliament enacted the 13th constitutional amendment, providing for a neutral caretaker government to assume power and conduct new parliamentary elections. Pursuant to this, the former Chief Justice, Muhammad Habibur Rahman, was appointed as Chief Advisor (a position equivalent to prime minister) in the interim government. Thereafter, fresh parliamentary elections were held in June 1996, and which were won by the Awami League.
Incongruously, in 2011 the ruling Awami Leauge government repealed the 13th constitutional amendment which had been enacted in 1996 by its own tremendous efforts. Circumventing the caretaker system for the 2014 election looks plainly self-serving on the part of the ruling Awami Leauge. A recent opinion poll shows nearly four out of five Bangladeshis think it a bad idea.
The largely unchallenged elections in Bangladesh have proved the opposition’s point that the majority of people do not want elections to be conducted under the ruling Awami League government
Local English daily, Dhaka Tribune had published a survey 3 days before the scheduled election. According to the poll, 77% of the 2438 respondents opined that an election without participation of BNP,the main opposition party, was not acceptable; 71% said the country was heading in a wrong direction; majority of the respondents was against the government’s ban on Jamaat-e-Islami.
Though the Election Commission hasn't so far announced the results officially, according to Dhaka Tribune reports, PM Sheikh Hasina's Awami League has bagged 105 seats out of 147 that were contested. While its ally, Jatiya Party, has notched 13 seats. Other parties and independent candidates have grabbed a total of 19 seats. As per the report, the Election Commission has ordered re-polling on 400 booths in 8 constituencies.
The Election Working Group (EWG), a non-partisan network of 29 leading civil society organisations that observed the 10th parliamentary polls in a limited capacity, claimed that 30.1% of the electorate voted on Sunday. The turnout was significantly lower than that in the previous two parliamentary polls. In 2008, the turnout was 85.93%, while it was 74.37% in 2001.
The EWG had deployed 8,444 observers at 1,689 polling centres in 75 constituencies in 43 out of 59 districts where elections were held. The turnout of female voters was 31.2%, while the male voter turnout was 28.9%, the report says.The voter turnout varied across constituencies, with Dhaka 17 (Banani-Gulshan) recording the lowest, 6.4%, while Gopalganj, the highest with 74%.
With the complete boycott by the opposition, a very low turn-out, and the absence of international election observers, the result of the election is expected to remain implausible as the entire election process has been. It is worth mentioning here that the European Union, the United States, Russia and the Commonwealth Nations have declined to send polls observers for Sunday's election. Interestingly, Only India and Bhutan had sent their poll observers to monitor the election.
The 48-hour countrywide hartal (strike) enforced by the BNP-led 18-party alliance was called off on Tuesday. It is expected that the BNP-led opposition alliance will persist with the fresh programme of strikes and blockades, demanding cancellation of polls’ results and protesting against the continued killing of their cadres.
In the post-election press conference, the Prime Minister, Shiekh Hasina, put forward her views as thus: “I call upon even now. Leave the company of the Jamaat-e-Islami and reach for a dialogue,” she said, indicting the BNP: “But, terrorism has to be put aside and the virtue of patience must be displayed.”
Most ironically, the same Awami League had forged an electoral understanding with the Jamaat-e-Islami in 1996 to win the election against its arch rival, BNP.
Last year, the High Court banned Jamaat-e-Islami to take part in the election, and many of its leaders were sentenced to death and aggravated life sentences by the War crime tribunal for allegedly siding with Pakistan in the Bangladesh liberation war.
Another leading daily in Bangladesh, the Daily Star, writes: “it would also be unfair, and indeed unwise to draw a broad brush of ‘anti-liberation or anti-democratic’ on all those who did not participate in the election. We do not believe that nearly 70 percent who chose not to vote are anti-liberation.”
The Daily Star holds the Prime Minister responsible for the present deadlock. It writes further: “The PM is not in sync with the existing political reality. Given her position that this election was a constitutional compulsion, we need to emphasize that it will not by any means resolve the current political instability. It was thus disappointing that the substance and tenor of her comments lacked any direction to resolve the political flux.”
History is thus repeating itself in Bangladesh; today, BNP is fighting for the same cause against Awami League which the latter had fought 14 years ago and won the election. Interestingly, one thing is common between 1996 and 2014; on both the junctures, the beleaguered Jamat-e-Islami was on the side of opposition to boycott the undemocratic elections.
It’s the political immaturity of both the major political parties in Bangladesh that has pushed the country into extreme instability. The lust for power and privilege, the vendetta politics, and fear of defeat have virtually destroyed the democratic prospects of Bangladeshi politics. Ultimately, the losers of such political wrangling are neither the battling Begums, nor the political parties, but the common men of the country.
The only solution of the political imbroglio is a fresh and all- inclusive election under the neutral care-taker government with wider democratic participation. In the absence of what is perceived to be a fair and representative government in Dhaka, Bangladesh will continue sliding into political violence and anarchy.
“Not only this, the country's already shattered economy is bound to deteriorate further. The responsibility for the debacle of the system will squarely lie on the political parties, particularly the ruling party. "Last Mod: 10 Ocak 2014, 15:21