12th national polls: Acceptability is the biggest challenge

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

There were excitements and tensions in the political arena for over a year regarding the twelfth national election. Although the two major parties- Awami League and BNP- were rigid in their respective positions, there was some sort of expectation in the public mind that both the parties may reach a consensus over the election.

The efforts of the foreign diplomats were also noteworthy. But those attempts did not become successful. Ruling party Awami League, Jatiya Party, some parties of the 14-party alliance and some recently registered parties are taking part in the 7 January election though the main opposition BNP and its like minded parties remain out of the electoral process.

Under this tough political reality, the election that is going to take place may be regarded as the obligation of the constitution but it is natural that questions will be raised about its acceptability. As BNP is not taking part in the election, in most of the constituencies the competition is mainly between the Awami League’s officially nominated candidates and the dummy candidates of the same party vying as independent candidates.

In reality there is no opposition party. The strategy of launching a voting war between boat and dummy candidates undertaken by the ruling party to portray the election as a competitive one has also ended up in clashes and violence in the election field. According to the news media, more than a hundred clashes occurred in many places where some people died and many were wounded.

The election that is usually held amidst a festive atmosphere in Bangladesh is largely absent this time as the main opposition forces are not taking part. On one hand the parties taking part in the election are trying to bring voters in the centres, on the other hand the parties that have rejected the election are urging the people not to come to the centre. As a whole, it seems bringing the voters to centres will be a big challenge. The discussion is rife about this even within the ruling and opposition parties.

Ahead of the election BNP and its like-minded parties have enforced a 48-hour hartal on 6 and 7 January. It is the responsibility of the election commission to make sure that no violent situation is created centering this programme. The law enforcing forces are bound to help them. But it is a matter of concern that despite a myriad of breaching of code of conducts in this non-competitive election, the EC was not seen taking stern actions excepting one or two occurrences.

According to international standards, the meaning of a fair and credible election is an open opportunity of electing representatives. As BNP and its like-minded parties are out of the election process, that chance is almost gone. If the news of winning ‘certain’ candidates becomes true, that opportunity will be even more reduced.

Whatever else this sort of voting war yields, it does not reflect public opinion. Although the EC tried to evade its responsibility, it deprived voters from electing candidates by not taking necessary initiatives and making sure of a participatory election. This election may fulfill the constitutional obligations, but the political reality Bangladesh is going to face through such an election may put the country in a new challenge.