There is one word making its rounds all over, resounding in the markets and the squares, the fields and the footpaths, the mosques and the mazars, and that is -- "election". In democratic countries, the election takes place after every few years. Once the election schedule is announced, the political parties approach the people, the voters, with their agenda. They try to win support. On the day of the election, the voters decide for whom they will vote. And with the announcement of the results, the flurry of election activities draws to a close.
But in our country, effects of the election linger on until the next election comes along. Throughout the term, debates continue -- in a volley of mud-slinging it is said who ran the worst election, how even dead people were made voters, etc, etc.
In a democratic country, the parliament is the centre of all politics. It is there that issues pertaining to economy, politics, education, health and so on are discussed and debated. No matter which party they belong to, the members of parliament vote independently. In the recent past, three prime ministers in Britain -- Theresa May, Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, had to resign in face of no-confidence from their own party members. Even on the Brexit issue, members of the Labour Party and the Conservatives voted independently, some for and some against. They didn't lose their parliament seat in the process.
In our country, the members of parliament do not have that right or freedom. Article 70 of the Constitution has suspended that. It states that, "A person elected as member of parliament at an election as which he was nominated as a candidate by a political party shall vacate his seat if he resigns from that party, or votes in parliament against that party."
The member of parliament who has been elected by the people of his area, does not even have the right to speak out if the party does not want him to. The so-called pro-liberation war and anti-liberation war parties are surprisingly similar in this regard. No one wants to remove the Damocles swords from above the heads of their members of parliament.
Nowhere else in the world is there such debate and debacles over the election. Even if we disregard the past, thousands of people have been killed in the elections held from 1991 onward in the country. Many have been attacked after the elections. Many have been driven from their homes.
The closer the 12th parliamentary polls approach, the stronger the fear of clashes grows. The Awami League ministers and leaders are adamant that the elections will be held under the constitution. That the election will be held as per schedule. No one can thwart it. If any party does not join the election, that is their political decision. In response, BNP leaders have said there will be no election under the Sheikh Hasina government. The government must resign before the election.
Awami League leaders feel that no matter what BNP may say, they will join the election once the schedule is announced. If they boycott the election as in 2014, their very existence will be at risk. This is yet another problem of our elections. Those in power are always concerned about the existence of the opposition. They don’t realise they are sitting on sand castles too.
BNP leaders would say they would not join any election under this government and won’t allow any such election to be held. They have gone a step ahead now, declaring that they will topple this government from power. When I asked a former BNP member of parliament that with only three months left of the election and the schedule likely to be announced at the end of October or the beginning of November, how will they thwart the election?
In reply, the BNP leader said three months is not an insignificant span of time. Just wait and see what happens. Awami League’s 2014 and 2018 formula won’t work this time. Another leader of an alliance partner of BNP said that given the state of the country’s economy, they won’t have to wait three months even. The government will crash.
Whether the government crashes or not, the country’s economy is in a visibly bad shape. Investment has come to a standstill, there is a gas and electricity crisis and the price of essentials is spiraling out of control. The government’s efforts to intermittently raid the markets, fix the prices of eggs, onions and potatoes, have proven to be futile. The common people are at their wit’s end.
The problem is that one cannot expect responsible behaviour from the political parties of this ill-fated country. Over the last 52 years, the crumbling leftists, the powerful centrists and rightists, have all failed to determine how to hold an election. Whichever party comes to power, carries out all sorts of manipulation to win the election. They say one thing when out of power, and quite the opposite once in power.
if Awami carries out a third election as they did they previous two, that will be the last nail in the coffin of democracy. There will be no difference between the system of government in Bangladesh with that of China or Russia
It is dangerous to offer any sort of advice regarding democracy, elections, human rights and such in Bangladesh. They will say, “We don’t need wisdom from the intellectuals.” But those whom the politicians dub as intellectuals, do not run the country. It is the politicians who will run the country. So why do they get so riled up? It is simply so that no one can say anything about the farce they run in the name of democracy and elections. They can’t be criticised. They can only be lavished with praise.
Awami League leaders now vehemently say, BNP must come to the election. BNP’s every existence will be at risk if they boycott the election as in 2014. I do not know if BNP’s existence will be in such a precarious state if they don’t join the election, but it can be said with certainty that if Awami carries out a third election as they did they previous two, that will be the last nail in the coffin of democracy. There will be no difference between the system of government in Bangladesh with that of China or Russia.
* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor at Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be contacted at [email protected]
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir