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The recent decision to auto-promote HSC (Higher Secondary Certificate) examinees without any exam has been met with much debate and discussion. In a column written for Prothom Alo against this 'auto-promotion' system, economist and retired professor of Chittagong University's department of economics, Mainul Islam, said that if we want genuine development and advancement for the future generation, then rather this 'auto-promotion' system, some other ways must be devised to evaluate the students' aptitude. Referring to his experience as a student in the sixties and seventies, he highlighted the detriment effects of this 'auto-pass' or auto-promotion system.

His contemporaries and even juniors have had similar experience. For many years after independence of the country, students were caught up in this 'auto-pass' system due to widespread cheating in the exams.

Government functionaries have said that there is no alternative but to cancel the HSC exams this year and simply pass everyone automatically. They did not want to place these young girls and boys at risk by holding the exam amidst the pandemic. That was their reasoning.

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If studies are hampered any year for unavoidable reasons, this can be made up later through hard work and perseverance. In that sense, the harm caused by not taking the HSC or annual exams at a secondary level, can be remedied. Of course, that would require sincere efforts on the part of the teachers, students and all others involved in education. But the problem is that, in all sectors, whether education, arts and literature, research, science and technology, the national parliament, local government, politics or trade and commerce, there is a suicidal propensity for 'auto-pass', to automatically step up to the next level.

Persons who had no connection with workers, became labour leaders. Peasant leaders had no connection with peasants. Student leaders who were no longer students, continued as student leaders long after they left their studies

We can discuss the matter of auto-pass in other sectors at a later date, but here let us concentrate on the unhealthy contest of auto-passing in politics. After all, politics is the driving force of a nation's progress and development. If politics is on the right path, it is not difficult to bring the economy, education, business and even journalism, into line too. And if politics is erroneous, nothing remains right.

Bangladesh's politics has been in this auto-pass mode ever since the country's independence. Many became leaders overnight without experience or exercise. Persons who had no connection with workers, became labour leaders. Peasant leaders had no connection with peasants. Student leaders who were no longer students, continued as student leaders long after they left their studies.

This auto-pass system in politics was institutionalised during the military rule. A person who never had anything to do with politics, one fine morning stands up and declares he will run the country. He picks leaders and former ministers from the different political parties, adds a smattering of ex-bureaucrats, and forms a government.

Ziaur Rahman may have resorted to certain strategies in this regard, but Ershad simply became the Chief Martial Law Administrator through one single announcement. Zia, instead of becoming the chief martial law administrator at the outset, became one of three deputies, even though it was no secret that he was the man in charge.

When Ershad took over state power in 1982, the country ran rife with anti-martial law sentiment. The world community too frowned upon military rulers. Ershad, while emerging as the chief martial law administrator in the country, portrayed himself to the outside world as the chairman of the cabinet of the People's Republic of Bangladesh.

Both Zia and Ershad had declared that they had no political ambitions, but simply wanted to revive the 'hijacked democracy', after which they would return to the barracks. They did not keep any such commitment. Both of them resorted to auto-pass politics to consolidate their power.

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Before he formed BNP, Ziaur Rahman held a referendum in 1977, calling for a 'yes' or 'no' vote regarding 19 points. And Ershad held an 18-point referendum in 1984. When they saw that referendums were not enough to consolidate political power, they turned to another auto-pass tactic in the name of national parliamentary elections.

The second national parliamentary elections were held on 18 February 1979, in which Zia's six-month-old BNP came to power with 207 votes. On 7 May 1986, the four-month-old Jatiya Party came to the helm with 153 votes through the third general election.

Two trends have become established in all our political parties. Once leaders reach the top post in the party, they will not budge from there voluntarily. The second trend is that any individual can clinch any post in a party, whether they have political experience or not, simply if they manage to appease the top leadership

Awami League joined the election under Ershad, while BNP boycotted it. In 1988, Ershad took up another auto-pass exercise in the form of the fourth national parliamentary election. Awami League, BNP and most of the political parties boycotted the election. Ershad did not get the scope to pass automatically and was toppled by the mass uprising of the nineties.

Auto-passing came to a halt for quite some time after that in Bangladesh's politics. Three political alliances had come up with a joint declaration during the anti-autocracy movement of the nineties, though much of it never materialised. However, at least four elections were held under non-partisan governments, with Awami League and BNP coming to power in turns.

Up till 2006, despite many constraints, there was discussion, debate and contest in the country's parliamentary politics. Then in 2007 with the ninth parliamentary polls ahead, BNP once again came up with an auto-pass ploy, with Iajuddin at the forefront. This fell flat due to the opposition movement and then the onset of the 1/11 change in political scenario.

The military-backed caretaker government of Fakhruddin Ahmed remained in power for two years. They handed over power through a free and fair election and voluntarily exited from the scene.

The people have seen a resumption of the auto-pass system in the elections of 2014 and 2018. The ruling Awami League claims they passed the 2014 election 'automatically' because BNP did not join the polls. Their mahajote of 'grand alliance' candidates passed uncontested in 154 seats. However, BNP did join the 2018 polls, but the auto-pass system remained intact. No plausible explanation was offered for that.

And the Magura syndrome continues in the by-elections and was obvious in the recent by-elections of Dhaka-5 and Pabna-4.

The precondition to an election is a healthy competition in a peaceful environment, where voters can come to the polls centres fearlessly, cast their voters and return home unhindered. But rather than bringing voters to the polling centres, KM Nurul Huda has ensured that voters stay well away from the centres. In the Dhaka-5 by-polls, 10 per cent of the votes were cast. Earlier in the Dhaka-10 by-election, the turnout was 5 per cent. If this trend continues much longer, auto-pass will gain an official stamp of approval.

It is not just about the election. The auto-pass in political leadership has taken on epidemic proportions. Two trends have become established in all our political parties, big and small. Once leaders reach the top leadership post in the party, they will not budge from there voluntarily. The second trend is that any individual can clinch any post in a party, whether they have political experience or not, simply if they manage to appease the top leadership. The main reasons for the leadership conflicts in both Awami League and BNP, is this auto-pass system. As for other parties, these have become so marginalised that it is hard to find anyone to even embroil in conflict.

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and can be reached at sohrabhassan55@gmail.com. This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir