'No possibility of either conflict or mass-upsurge'

The opposition BNP is holding its grand rally in Dhaka on 28 October. The government has called for a counter programme. In an interview with Prothom Alo's Sheikh Sabiha Alam, former vice chancellor of National University and political scientist, Harun-or-Rashid, talks about the direction in which the country's politics is headed, apprehensions concerning the election and questions in the public mind.


Q :

The ruling Awami League, the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and several other parties will hold rallies in the capital today, 28 October. People have concerns over the rally for various reasons. Is this apprehension logical? In which direction we are heading?

It is not the first time that such a conflicting situation has emerged. We saw the politics of conflict in the nineties. After the formation of government by BNP in 1991, a movement started centering the election in Magura and Mirpur. At one stage, 147 lawmakers resigned at a time. We noticed a conflicting situation over the election in February 1996. Recollect the incident of 2006-7. Huge violence took place over the election in 2014. If you analyse the incidents, you will notice the ideological conflict between two parties usually becomes visible during the election. However, the situation is so conflicting this time.

Q :

In the beginning you said the situation is not so conflicting this time. Why do you think so?

A situation has been created due to the awareness of the people and keen watch of the media and the foreigners over the 12th parliamentary election. As a result, the 12th parliamentary election cannot be a repetition of 2014 and 2018.  The 12th national election is bound to be free and fair. There is no alternative to it. The prime minister has held a parliamentary meeting and there she said you have to be elected with your own qualifications. I can't help anyone to be elected. That means there is no alternative to holding a free and fair election. If the election is not fair, those who are responsible for this have to pay a high price. The 12th parliamentary election under a party government is a litmus test.

Q :

But what possibility is there of a fair election?

Our friendly countries and development partners are observing the elections this time. They had no such attention to the election in the pasts. I think this attention will work as deterrent to all including the ruling party and the opposition. The people want to cast votes in the 12th parliament. The International Republican Institute (IRI) has carried out a survey on 5,000 youths. Ninety per cent of them said they would go to cast votes.

Q :

But BNP has been launching a movement seeking one-point demand and the party said they would not participate in the election under the party government. How will a free, fair and inclusive election be held under such a situation?

It is true that it would not be effective if 500 parties join elections, but BNP does not participate. BNP has to pay high price politically if the party does same thing as they did in 2014. First, they have made a one-point movement. That means BNP has to bring out a mass upsurge. But a mass upsurge cannot be brought about depending only on the leaders and activists. It requires mobilisation of the people.

Secondly, the thing they are talking about should be taken to the people. The people will stand with them if the people's verdict is not reflected in the election. Third, they can boycott elections. When the Jatiya Party will contest in the 300 constituencies, other parties will join the election. If there is no competition, there will be no objection over free and fair election. So this election is also a litmus test for BNP too.

Q :

But is there an environment for taking part in the election? There are thousands of cases against opposition leaders and workers. The court is holding trials even at night so that all verdicts can be passed before the election. How can BNP gain any confidence in such a situation?

Had BNP remained on the path of democracy, there wouldn't have been so many cases. They snatched away the lives of 500 people in the name of resisting the 2014  election. Political parties aren't supposed to snatch away people's lives. They are supposed to protect them. When BNP and Jamaat were in power from 2001 till 2006, what did they do then? There was a rise in militant groups, there was terrorism. They are demanding a caretaker government. But Barrister Moudud had extended the age limit of judges so that they could make the party member KM Hasan the head of the caretaker government. This made the system questionable. A 15-member parliamentary committee was formed before the 15th amendment was passed. Two BNP members were included in that too. Had they stayed in the committee, they could have spoken.

What did Iajuddin saheb do? From president, he became head of the caretaker government. Then 1/11 came along. The problem is that we practice politics. But are the values of democratic politics practiced?

Q :

You are talking about sabotage cases regarding the move to resist the 2014 election, but a case was filed against BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir on charges of damaging a garbage truck. What do you have to say about that?

The ruling class has done this down the ages. Does anyone want a strong opponent to stand up against them? They will always want to keep the strong opponent away. But why will they step into that trap? BNP has taken up this one-point demand. They could have held a meeting with the election commission. Bangabandhu even held talks with Yahya Khan. Did he move away from that because he was aiming for the country's independence?

Q :

Many feel that if the government is changed, all problems will be resolved. This government failed to control the syndicates. The people are floundering under the high price of essentials.

But it is this government that constructed the Padma Bridge, the metro rail, Karnaphuli tunnel, the Asrayan project and such. Can BNP show a single such example? There is money laundering, corruption and spiraling prices. That cannot be denied. But the people have no alternative before them.

Q :

There is talk of dialogue. But how can BNP have any confidence in talks with the ruling party, given past experience?

Both parties have crises. They must make concessions if confidence is to be built up. We don't bother about concessions. How is a level playing field formed? Both sides must have the power and strength. They must have a mindset of remaining in the fray so that there is a balance of power. But this must of course be within the law. There can be nothing outside of that.

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