The Awami League government, led by the prime minister Sheikh Hasina for the third consecutive term, has completed one hundred days on Tuesday. Awami League did not specify any goal in its election manifesto of 2018 for the first 100 days of its term, not did it make any pledges for 100 days in its manifestoes of 2014 and 2008. But morning shows the day and so a discussion of its first 100 days bears relevance.
Evaluating the first 100 days is not a new concept. The heads of states and governments in many countries give top priority to their activities at the beginning. It began in USA. The 32th US president Franklin Roosevelt took major decisions on local and foreign policies within 100 days after taking over power. He formulated 15 important laws within that short span of time. He organised an international conference and exchanged views with heads of foreign governments.
Referring to this from Arthur M Schlesinger’s book 'The Coming of the New Deal-The Age of Roosevelt', the Boston Consulting Group inspires chief executive officers of big companies to fix their goals at the beginning.
The political parties in Bangladesh, however, are not accustomed to such practice. The governments in most of the countries receive sympathy and support at the beginning. But Bangladesh is exceptional. Especially after the restoration of democracy, the governments did not get any such opportunity for one and half decades. Since 1991, whenever a party was defeated in the election, it immediately brought about allegations of vote rigging and tried to put up strong resistance against the government. There was additional unrest in 1991 due to transformation of parliamentary form of government from the presidential form.
From that point of view, the victorious Awami League government was lucky in 2008. The allegation of polls anomalies did not find any basis at that time. But following the one-sided election of 5 January 2014 and three-month long violent movement by the opposition, the government had a different kind of challenge. The government was able to overcome the challenges of credibility and legitimacy by resorting to repressive policies on the domestic front and successful economic diplomacy in the international arena. And the cooperation of India, China and Russia worked wonders.
The trend still remains in the third term too. Despite controversy over the polls on 30 December, the government is comfortably ensconced in power. It has good ties with three world powers. Moreover, the matter of political and economic unrest has been taken into consideration as the country as also given shelter to a million Rohingya refugees.
As political differences are fully controlled, a section of people expected some sort of stability but that didn’t happen. The first 100 days have not been smooth sailing. There is an indication of dormant crisis. The main crisis is that people have lost interest in their voting rights and in the electoral system. Even the grand alliance partners -Bangladesh Workers Party and a faction of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) - openly question anomalies and credibility of polls. Following voters’ lack of interest in Dhaka South City Corporation (DNCC) and upazila polls, the election commission now admits that the ballot stuffing on the night before the polls night is the main problem. The government quarters also said the election system has to be made neutral to make the election competitive.
Before the government’s fulfillment of 100 days, Dhaka University Central Students’ Union (DUCSU) election was held. The government had an opportunity to take credit for allowing holding the election after 28 years. But the opportunity was missed due to excesses of the ruling party Awami League’s student wing Chhatra League. On the contrary, the government had to shoulder the liability the university’s history being tarnished.
Within three and half months of the government, the students and youth took to the street protesting the road crashes. It reminds us the movement for government reforms of the last year.
It is positive that the government has introduced bus service for circular routes in the capital. But such isolated steps will not bring lasting solution as a whole. No effective step is visible to get rid of disorder on the roads as influential quarters of the transport owners and workers are linked to the government.
Workers of the readymade garments industry launched a strong protest demanding wage hike and halting sack of workers at the beginning of the year. There has been no reasonable solution to the problem. While some sort of silence prevails in the country due to unknown fear, these matters are elaborately discussed abroad.
The possibility of big change is little as there are strong representatives of the owners in the ruling party and the government. However, the dormant discontent will not decrease, rather increase. Economic growth will increase due to the increase of trade and infrastructure development. But economic disparity will not decrease. No equity-based society will be built. That was the commitment of the liberation war. The death of a 3rd grader, killed by falling plaster in the class room is the cruel example of economic disparity.
The death of Feni’s madrasa student Nusrat has shaken the country. People are angry with the madrasa principal for his cruelty towards Nusrat. The people are also angry at the Awami League’s local leaders who sheltered the criminals. They are also angry over police and local administration. Feni is not an isolated incident.
The news of such incidents is coming from various parts of the country. A mother of four children was raped due to voting for the opposition at Shubarnachar of Noakhali and perpetrators did it under the shelter of local political parties and administration. The rule of law is needed to stop these crimes, but it is difficult to find this under the present structure. There is now a big question how far it is realistic to restrain the law enforcers who were awarded for discharging duties in the controversial election.
The prime minister is angry with the banking sector. She said the directors of banks did not keep their promises. The new finance minister surrendered to the current trend of failure in reducing the burden of default and bad loans. After the national election, it was normally found that the investors are enthusiastic to invest in the stock market. This time scenario is different. The stock market collapsed due to lack of good governance and failure of the regulatory body.
The civil society is appealing to the government to follow a policy of good governance. After coming to power, in her first address to the nation on 25 January, the prime minister said she will take initiatives to establish rule of law and ensure accountability at all spheres of the state.
It is now a question to all how far the rule of law is meaningful without the strong opposition and effective democracy. An attempt was made to create an appeal by inducting 31 in new cabinet, dropping 36. It was also noticeable that breaking the continuity of the grand alliance, the government of ruling Awami League was formed. It is wrong to think that parliament can be made effective with the faux opposition party.
It is also a wrong conception to think that the absence of strong opposition will be fulfilled if six members of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) are lured in to join the parliament. There is a necessity of political negotiation to overcome this crisis. Is it possible to form a national unity and establish rule of law that Awami League pledged in its election manifesto without disposal of the allegation of election anomalies of the past and reform of the electoral system.
Kamal Ahmed is a senior journalist. This piece, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.