Apprehensions about the election linger on

Kamal Ahmed | Update:

Dialogues have been held, but apprehensions concerning the election linger. The government has assured that the elections will be free, fair and credible, but that’s about it. It hasn’t made any other concession. If the prime minister doesn’t make any fresh announcement, then there is no reason to hope that the political uncertainty over the election will dissipate.

To the apparent eye it seems as if the differences between the two sides are over whether the proposals for a solution are constitutional or not. Jatiya Oikya Front leaders claim that the proposals they put forward in the second round of dialogue are all within constitutional conditions. Their proposals include an election-time government comprising 10 advisors and a chief advisor, dissolving the parliament and holding the election within 90 days from then, releasing Khaleda Zia and restructuring the election commission.

The government has rejected the proposal for a chief advisor and 10 other advisors, terming this as unconstitutional. They say and this would create a constitutional vacuum. They have also rejected dissolving the parliament and holding the election within 90 says, saying this would give scope for a third force to take advantage of the situation. This indicates a sense of fear within the government. It is most unfortunate if fear is the key obstacle to credibly solving the stalemate over the election. It is reprehensible that a political party’s fear or an alliance’s fear hampers a key component of democracy, the election.

The Oikya Front’s proposals are nothing new and have already been discussed at length. The Supreme Court verdict gives scope for two elections to be held under a caretaker government and so the argument still stands that it is not impossible to form a non-political government. And the matter of dissolving the parliament and holding the election within 90 days is also a matter of constitutional interpretation.

The Supreme Court is the final authority when it comes to interpreting the constitution. Since the conflict is over constitutional interpretation, the matter can be taken to the Supreme Court.

If the government is unwilling to relent on any point, then why did it agree to dialogue with its main opponent, Jatiya Oikya Front? The answers are simple. Firstly, it did not want to appear stubborn and inflexible in its stance. Secondly, by widening the scope of dialogue, it can project this as an endeavour for an inclusive consensus. Thirdly, it is encouraging other political forces as an alternative to the Jatiya Oikya Front so that the participation of these forces will make the election seem well contested and inclusive.

The fact remains that, home and abroad, BNP and its alliance will remain recognised as the government’s main political opposition. So the government contention that the election will be well contested and inclusive will not gain currency all that easily.

And it is not as if the Jatiya Oikya Front has not gained at all from this dialogue. The negative opinion generated in 2013 when BNP leader Khaleda Zia refused to respond to the prime minister’s telephone call, will be dispelled by the front’s proposal for talks.  It has been made evident that the alliance is eager to join the election. Their demands are similar to those of the left alliance. This indicates that other than the parties known to be in favour of the government, a handful of Islamic parties and a group breaking off from BNP, no one thinks it is possible to hold a free and fair election based on the government’s assurances and the present circumstances.

It had been hoped that the onset of the dialogue would see a change in political behaviour, but that was not so. Opposition leaders and activists are being arrested on various charges, fake cases continue to be filed, and the democratic right of the Jatiya Oikya Front to hold public rallies is being obstructed.

On the first day of the dialogue the prime minister assured that public rallies and gatherings would not be obstructed. But on 6 November, the day of Jatiya Oikya Front’s public meeting at Suhrawardy  Udyan, public transport was blocked and government supporters put up obstructions in various places, making the government’s trustworthiness all the more questionable.

The government has previously said that the election-time cabinet would be small in size, but it has now moved away from that commitment too. The technocrat ministers may have resigned, but the prime minister’s advisors remain firmly in their ministerial statuses.

It had been said that the election commission would play the central role during the election period, but in actuality, it is the government that is making all the transfers, postings and promotions in the administration. There are no signs that the government will release this from its political control.

Then there is the dismal precedence of the poor performance of past election commissions. The government is totally uninterested in bringing about any changes to the election commission, so there is no justification for the election to put any hope in the government’s assurances.

It is frustrating to all concerned that the dialogue closes with no solution to the prevailing crisis.   The government has said further dialogue can be held in future if necessary. We hope the doors for discussion remains open. However, this should not be just a ploy for time or a mere meaningless show.

  • Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist. This piece, appearing in Prothom Alo print, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir

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