Democracy seems to come cheap in Bangladesh’s politics, though not in a very savoury manner. It is one thing for the ruling party and quite the opposite for the opposition who have nothing to do but lament. And as for the people, they have nothing to do but heave a deep sigh. In other countries, democratic politics sees an intractable link among the ruling party, the opposition and the people.
It is nothing unusual in an election if one side sees a landslide victory and the other side sees abject defeat. But in this 30 December election of Bangladesh, the ruling party seemed least moved by its massive victory. The opposition was flattened to the ground, silenced by defeat. Whatever little protest it made was almost unheard. It rejected the election results, without coming up with any plan other than muttering, “We want reelection.”
Of course, merely wanting is not enough. Prior to the election the opposition alliance, Jatiya Oikya Front, had boomed out all sorts of rhetoric. But that was all switched off after the 30 December evening. They became silent and invisible. As for the people, they simply surrendered themselves to fate.
Those who had imagined they would form a new government in the new year won a paltry six seats. There were two more seats of another opposition ally, adding up to a grand total of eight. They bluntly said there was no question of joining parliament, no question of taking the oath.
Bangalis are prone to suspicion. They tend to be suspicious about everything. So their vehemence about not joining the parliament was also eyed with doubt. It’s like someone declaring they would not enter heaven. Once elected, it was hardly plausible that they would not actually join parliament.
With such poor results, the second largest political party and coalition might well declare that it will not go to parliament, that it wants a fresh election. But then it needs to come up with an alternative. After all, what difference does it make to the public whether they join parliament or not?
Political parties and leaders must have a sense of responsibility. They must have proper plans in the interests of the nation, for positive changes in people’s lives. They must devise ways to implement these plans. Politicians are not like anyone else. They lend their leadership to millions of people. Their words must have meaning.
When anyone wins in a parliamentary election, it is natural that he or she duly take the oath and join parliament. There is hardly scope to dwindle on whether or not to take oath, whether or not to join parliament.
The common people feel that the reason these leaders hesitated to go to parliament is that they could hardly make any difference, being only half a dozen among 350 members of parliament. But actually, it does make a huge difference. You can get a duty free luxury vehicle, possibly a plot of land, can exert your dominance over the local schools, colleges and madrasas in your areas, can order around the upazila project implementation officer, avail trips abroad, and more. After spending millions of taka on the election, who will want to let such perks slip through their hands?
The people hardly know anyone of these few opposition candidates who won the election, other than Mirza Fakhrul. Had the big names of BNP’s standing committee won in the election, would they have taken the decision not to join parliament?
BNP has weathered a devastating storm. In politics, one must face such pressure. One must go to jail on false charges, face police brutality and more. When the second consecutive term of the government was nearing its end and the elections drew close, when Khaleda Zia was close to being convicted, when it wasn’t being possible to distance her from politics, she should have determined who will take the party helm in her absence, to determine what preparations to undergo for the election. If one strategy wasn’t working, Plan B should have been in place. The party’s official leader in her absence remained far way, self-exiled in the British Isles. The people hardly had even a hazy idea about the orders he sends out from there.
Since the election was to be held under the government, then BNP should have come to an understanding with the government. There was really no reason to link themselves with Gono Forum. Gono Forum benefited vastly, BNP was harmed vastly.
Those who joined parliament after being elected did not do wrong. They may be not exonerated for going against party decision. From the very outset, there was discrepancy in the words of the party leaders, attempting to dupe the people. Mirza Fakhrul eventually did not take oath. He may have lost out personally by this decision, but there is a sense of moral victory. His party was politically defeated and his party betrayed him. He was cheated. He had to swallow this. This exposed BNP’s political bankruptcy. The people have lost all trust and confidence in the politicians.
* Syed Abul Maksud is a writer and researcher. This piece appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten here by Ayesha Kabir