It remains a difficult choice for opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party whether to join or boycott the next general elections, according to economist Mahbub Ullah.
BNP activists, he says, may not appreciate the party’s decision to contest polls keeping its chairperson Khaleda Zia in jail while it is not a revolutionary party either.
A former professor of Development Studies at Dhaka University, Mahbub Ullah, however, feels the BNP alone is not in the crisis, given the risks facing the country.
“This crisis is not specific to the BNP; the [Awami League] government is in the same boat. If it fails to hold a participatory election and just replicates the 2014 model, democracy will be further jeopardised,” he said in an exclusive interview with Prothom Alo.
Mahbub Ullah, a former student leader during the turbulent days of the late 1960s, observed that the current situation is not congenial either for election or for protest demonstrations.
“There is no environment for the opposition to join the election…. The opposition parties are not even allowed to demonstrate on the streets,” said the analyst.
Asked how he looks at the move to form the new opposition coalition involving the BNP, he cited the example of the culmination of the 1969 mass upsurge once the student leaders of different parties joined hands.
Mahbub Ullah recalled that the defeat of Muslim League in the 1954 election had been possible due to formation of Jukto Front (United Front) of the opposition and that the fall of military ruler HM Ershad was the result of the unity of the opposition parties.
“Politics of alliance plays a critical role during the crisis period,” he said terming the recent opposition move to forge national unity a welcome initiative.
He, however, pointed out that a statesman is missing in Bangladesh unlike the re-emergence of Mahathir Mohamad in Malaysia’s political scene.
Dwelling on the current political situation, he mentioned that even during the martial law regimes, it was not as harsh as it is now. “The protesters used strong words in those days but didn’t have to go to jail for such protests. Today, one has to go to jail [for such dissenting voice] …The newspapers in those days wrote something despite restrictions but that cannot be done now.”
Referring to the incidents of enforced disappearance, killing and filing of ‘concocted’ cases, he said in a state of political confrontation, the present governing party is more aggressive. “Everyone knows that the police and the administration are biased. In such circumstances, it is hard to expect fair elections,” he added.
Asked what the BNP would do when the ruling camp seems unlikely to meet the opposition demand for talks to resolve pre-polls political issues, Mahbub Ullah called this situation a dilemma for the BNP. “Joining the election without the physical presence of the chairperson is not easy. So is the decision to boycott,” he said.
He maintained that it is better for the nation to have a peaceful, fair and participatory election. “If the political changeover takes place through means other than elections that would not be good news for the country and its people,” he said.
* This piece, originally published as interview text in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in story format in English by Khawaza Main Uddin