'One-point' from two parties plunges people into crisis

Flags of Awami League and BNP

On 12 July, the ruling Awami League and opposition BNP held large rallies at around one and a half kilometres distance from each other. Both parties declared a ‘one-point’ demand respectively. The BNP rally declared that there would be no election with Sheikh Hasina remaining in power. They had one demand, Sheikh Hasina must resign. At the Awami League rally it was declared that the election would be held with Sheikh Hasina at the helm. That was their ‘one point’.

Where will this inflexible stance of both sides take the country? Awami League leaders feel that no matter how obdurate BNP’s stand may be, they will eventually join the election. On the flip side, BNP leaders believe that Awami League will not be able to get away this time with an election like that of 2014 or 2018. Whether it is because of foreign pressure or any other reason, they will have to acquiesce to their demands this time. Both the parties have mulled over dialogue too, albeit with conditions attached -- first accept the demands, then we go for dialogue.

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Prothom Alo on Friday published the reactions of political analysts Dr Shahdeen Malik and Dr Sakhawat Hossain and diplomat Touhid Hossain. They may have had different ways of expression, but the bottom line was the same – the problems must be resolved through dialogue. Despite the rigid stands, the doors haven’t shut on talks. If not overtly, the talks can be held behind the scenes. The basic premise of democracy is to reach credible solution through dialogue, discussions and debate. But our politicians have a propensity for the opposite. No political problem of Bangladesh has been settled through talks over the table in the past. This has been done on the streets, through bloodshed and violent conflict.

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Awami League and BNP held public rallies in Dhaka on the same day and yet there were no clashes. The police did not obstruct any rally. Some have dubbed this as a model political situation. But it can quite confidently be said that this was not done voluntarily by the ruling party or the law enforcement agencies. They wanted to appear as democratic and tolerant in front of the foreign visitors. Even so, we laud them. And I need to point out another matter here. Our politics has reached such a point that when there are no clashes during a rally, that makes the headlines.

The question is, will they continue in this manner till the forthcoming election? Or will come up with false and fabricated cases against the opposition leaders as in the past?

The crisis over elections that has emerged today, is basically the crisis of our democracy. It is a crisis in governance

The first problem in our politics is that those in power have completely erased the dividing line between the ruling party and the government. The second problem is that when they are in the opposition, they are very vocal about the fundamental rights of the people, freedom of expression and press freedom. But once in power, they curb these rights.

There are two ways to solve the crisis that exists in the country today over the election. One is by peaceful means, through talks. The other is by a test of strength on the streets. A solution through talks can usher in a win-win situation. Former election commissioner Sakhawat Hossain and severals others have said this is possible, while remaining within the constitution.

After the fall of the autocrat in 1990, the parties involved in the movement held talks and reached a solution. The constitution wasn’t changed. Even today it would not be impossible to find a solution, if the political parties so wanted. The question is, will they display such good intentions? Will they allow the administration and the law enforcement agencies to carry out their duties neutrally for the sake of an inclusive and fair election?

The government ministers and ruling party leaders claim that they want a fair election. The opposition wants a fair election too. So wherein lies the problem? An election is the ultimate manifestation of people’s will? That is only possible when all parties and the people are involved in the process. It is not possible for the will of the people to be manifested if any party or side is kept outside of the election.

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After the abolition of the 15th amendment, a free and fair election should have been held to show the people that a fair election can be held under a party government too. They failed to do so. BNP has been demanding a non-party government for the past 10 years, but their movement couldn’t justify this demand more than the ‘enforced’ elections of 2014 and 2018.

Countless people have given their lives for free elections, the country has suffered from extensive economic loss. Even so, why had democracy remained elusive? Why is there need to have a movement for free elections, 52 years after independence? It is the political leadership that must find the answers to these questions.

The crisis over elections that has emerged today, is basically the crisis of our democracy. It is a crisis in governance. It is those who created this crisis that must find the solution.

If the crisis is resolved through dialogue, the country will be saved from disaster. If not, if both sides take to the streets in a test of strength, it is difficult to discern just what situation will arise. It may be even worse that 2013-14 or 2006-07.

There is not an iota of doubt, however, that the ‘one-point’ of the two parties will plunge the people into a crisis.