Ruling party cannot guarantee a fair election: Rehman Sobhan

Rehman Sobhan

The ruling party cannot give any guarantee for a free and fair election, said Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue. He said, the entire system has become politicized and the institutions are not carrying out their constitutional responsibilities, giving rise to questions concerning a credible election. There had been a consensus among political parties to carry on with the caretaker government system. The problems, for which the caretaker government system was created, still exist.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina herself was a victim of elections under a partisan government
Rehman Sohban, chairman, CPD

Rehman Sobhan was speaking at a seminar, ‘Politics is Broken: How do you fix it’, held yesterday, Sunday, at a hotel in the capital city. The seminar was organised by Dhaka Tribune with support from the Norwegian embassy.

The CPD chairman Rehman Sobhan was speaking during the open discussions at the seminar. He said, a ruling party comes to power and appoints persons of its own liking in the posts of judges, vice chancellors, law enforcement and the administration. When another party comes to power, it does the same. This trend has been going on down the years. As a result, an independent and credible system has not emerged. How can free and fair elections be held in this situation? The ruling party cannot guarantee a free and fair election.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina herself was a victim of elections under a partisan government, said Rehman Sobhan. He said, this (elections under a party government) is not an effective system. Sheikh Hasina understood this during the rule of Sattar (Abdus Sattar, president from November 1981 till March 1982 and acting president for six months before taking over as president) and Ershad (former president HM Ershad). Even though Awami League lost the election in 1991 in the election held under Shahabuddin Ahmed (5th national parliament election), they did not decry the system. It was Awami League that waged a movement for over two years to add the caretaker government system to the constitution.

Rehman Sobhan said, if Awami League had strengthened the institutions over the past two terms of its rule and made these truly independent, their position would be credible now. But there has been no progress in the true sense in this regard.

Secretary of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN) Badiul Alam Majumdar also took part in the open discussion. He said, politics has become a dirty game in Bangladesh. A long term understanding is required to emerge from such politics. A national contract is required to overcome the present political crisis. The people want unconditional dialogue between the political parties. Dialogue is required, an agreement and a resolution is imperative.

People couldn’t vote

Speaking as a panelist during the seminar, former election commissioner Brigadier General M Sakhawat Hossain (Retd) said, the people have not been able to vote after 2008. The institutions have disintegrated. If countries like the Maldives and Nepal can hold elections, why can’t Bangladesh? The political personalities of Bangladesh must answer this question. He said that none of the political parties in the country practice democracy, adding that this circumstance has been brought about by a flawed democratic system and faulty political culture.

He said, political leaders stand guard outside the polling centres. They decide who will be able to cast their votes and who won’t. This is not in the law. It is the responsibility of the election commission to look into this.

Former election commissioner M Sakhawat Hossain said that the country will fall into further danger if the next national election is not free, fair and inclusive. He said, why have we had to face the visa policy and sanctions? It is because the institutions of the country are not functional and the last two elections were not credible. The people have lost their trust. It is essential for the political parties to hold dialogue and come to an understanding.

Executive officer of the non-government organisation Brotee, Sharmin Murshed, said that while the development indicators have been on n upward curve over the last decade or so, the democracy indicators have been on a downward trend. She said, the state of human rights has been going down too. The opposition parties lack trust in the government. They feel that their very existence will be in threat if they cannot come to power. The people want a peaceful handover of power.

Sharmin Murshed feels that the 2014 and 2018 elections killed the democratic process. She said, the abolition of the caretaker government system has hit the democratic system hard. Those in power, do not want any caretaker, they are scared of losing power. Those in the opposition do not want to join any election under a party government. There needs to be political reforms in the country.

A free, fair and inclusive election is required for a functioning democracy. An internationally credible election will open many doors for Bangladesh in the days ahead.
Espen Rikter-Svendsen, Norwegian ambassador

Need for dialogue

Awami League member of parliament Mohammad Ali Arafat said that were certain were problems in the election process. The major opposition party even three months before the election is uncertain whether it will join or not. It is meaningless to have the same discussions before the election after every give years. There is need for dialogue to reach a long-term solution.

BNP’s executive committee member Tabith Awal said that the government is using to its own end the institutions that uphold democracy. He said, a solution would be possible if the political parties thought about the people rather than power.

Central committee member of Bangladesher Samajtantrik Dal (BSD) Monisha Chakraborty said that an interim arrangement was needed to resolve the prevailing crisis in the election system. She said, the people do not want to see another election run as planned by the government in 2014 and 2018.

Situation becoming heated

In his opening presentation at the seminar, the Norwegian ambassador Espen Rikter-Svendsen said Bangladesh has made good progress in economic and human development. A free, fair and inclusive election is required for a functioning democracy. An internationally credible election will open many doors for Bangladesh in the days ahead.

Moderating the seminar, the Dhaka Tribune editor Zafar Sobhan said, the political situation is heating up with the elections ahead. Awami League and BNP are poles apart concerning the caretaker system. He said, “Unfortunately, there is controversy over the past two elections, for which we are now in a stalemate.”