Awami League leaders and activists are sharply divided in most of the districts and upazilas. The conflict of local Awami League was the root of the tumultuous incident that took place in Barishal town. There is a conflict between the state minister and the mayor. The mayor does not want the posters of anyone in the town. There are no posters of the opposition parties. There is no question of tearing down any posters. The mayor elected in the controversial elections cannot accept posters with photos of state minister or competitors.
There are conflicts between ministers versus members of parliament, somewhere lawmakers versus upazila chairman and somewhere lawmakers versus local Awami League leaders. Basurhat of Noakhali is a glaring example of rivalry between the local Awami League and municipality mayor.
The mayor thinks whatever he will order and the Awami League leaders will have to accept that and the administration must listen. Although Awami League has no challenge from the opposition parties at the moment, there are challenges from inside the party and there will be in future. Although these matters could be concealed earlier, it is not possible now in the age of modern technology. These are going viral.
Hartal and blockades were a trend of politics in 2015. But afterwards, there were no incidents of hartal, blockade, vandalism and torching in the last six years. Does the ruling regime know the answer as to why Bangladesh is on the wane in the index of democracy?
On the contrary the opposition party BNP completed a three-day meetings of the executive committee on Thursday. The leaders of different levels have given opinions to launch a movement to reinstate the caretaker government. The leaders who attended the meetings said they would not participate in any elections under the Awami League. The grassroots leaders are ready for any sort of sacrifice. In 2018, the Awami League promised to hold a fair election but did not keep their word. They snatched the voting rights of the people. BNP leaders said they would participate in the election their demand for a caretaker government was met. BNP leaders think the political situation will change in the next two years. They are observing the conflicts between the ruling party leaders of different levels and the administration and the law enforcing agencies. Administrative officials who avoided BNP are now enthusiastic to talk to BNP and they are enquiring about the situation of the country, a policymaker of BNP said.
The issue of alliance politics is also discussed in the BNP executive committee meetings. Many leaders think BNP has not benefited by forging alliance with Jamaat or forming the National Oikya Front ahead of the election in 2018. Jamaat leaders got the opportunity to contest in the election without using its name and two leaders of Gono Forum have been elected.
BNP will try to unite all those who are out the government camp. In case of failure, they would launch a movement themselves. After the meetings, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam said, "We have discussed the overall situation of the country, what to do and organisational situation. More discussions will be held in future."
Besides Awami League and BNP, small parties have also been active. There are indications of inclusion and exclusion in the alliance politics. Students' Rights Protection Council leader and DUCSU former VP Nurul Haque is preparing to float a new political party. Nurul Haque and his associates want to form a new party comprising of students and youths. In the past they united the students and youths bringing reforms in the quota system in the government recruitment. Student and youth rights council claims most of the youths in the country are with them. So the government sent many leaders and activists to jail in false cases. Left Democratic Alliance, Ganasanghati and Nagorik Oikya are continuing political activities. Aims of all these are the next election.
Alongside discussions of elections, the issue of the next election commission comes into discussion. The tenure of the current election commission led by KM Nurul Huda will expire on 14 February 2022. Afterwards, the next election commission will be formed. How and who will be included in that commission? According to the constitution, a law has to be formulated for the formation of the election commission. But no government enacted the law in the last 50 years.
The ruling party formed the election commission as per its wish. The caretaker government formed the election commission after discussing with all political parties. Some of them became successful while some of them failed. They did not destroy the election system like the Rakib commission and the Nurul Huda commission formed through the search committee. The fault is not with the search committee. The fault is with those who take charge of the constitutional body and have considered the best thing to gain favour of the ruling regime instead of arranging a fair election.
In this context it is difficult to remark how the next election will be held. The free and fair election is not the only precondition of democracy but the main precondition. The fair election does not ensure the democracy. But the democracy cannot be thought without a fair election.
BBC recently made a report by interviewing those who cast votes for the first time in 2008. Most of the youths said they could not or did not go to cast votes in any election after the elections of 2008. What is the answer to this election commission that deprives the young voters of casting their votes? Whatever the conflict may be between Awami League and BNP, none has the right to deprive citizens of their voting rights.
BBC in another report has identified some indicators as anti-democracy or authoritative rule. The controversial election is the first of them.
If the elections become controversial, people lose interest in elections. In the past, 80 per cent of votes were counted in the election. Now the voters are not interested to cast their votes in the national and local elections. The ruling Awami League expressed wonder over the percentage of votes in the Dhaka City Corporation elections. They have so many leaders and activists, but people were not found in the polling stations.
The second indicator of lack of democracy is the parliament run by one party system. It requires a microscope to see how many members of parliament out of Awami League and its alliance are there in two parliaments formed through elections of 2014 and 2018. Moreover, the democratic institutions have weakened to such an extent that there is a little difference between the party and the government.
It is difficult to differentiate the statements of party leaders and the government officials. Afterwards, the issue of controlling people comes up and the matter of being fearful to express opinions. Bangladesh created a good constitution in 1972, in which there were no repressive laws. The state could not send any citizen to jail if it wanted. There must be specific allegations. There has to have summons by the courts. The ruling Awami League included the regressive sections.
Later military and civil governments formulated laws one after another to curb the rights of the people. The Digital Security Act is an example of the last. Awami League registered a protest when BNP formulated ICT Act. After coming to power, they perpetuate the ICT Act. Afterwards, they formulated DSA ahead of the elections in 2018. This law is being used to stop not only the journalists but also the citizens.
In the last 12 years, alongside development, corruption has increased. Awami League pledged that they would strengthen democracy and show zero tolerance against corruption. But the democratic institutions are at stake.
15 September was the International Democracy Day declared by the United Nations. Through this days, people can judge in what type of democracy they are in. They can judge whether they are able to enjoy minimum rights of democracy if and they are able to speak the truth out of fear. The ruling party itself can ask how much commitment they fulfilled they made to the people.
Hartal and blockade was a trend of politics in 2015. But afterwards, there were no incidents of hartal, blockade, vandalism and torching in the last six years. Does the ruling regime know the answer as to why Bangladesh is on the wane in the index of democracy?
Sohrab Hasan is a joint editor at Prothom Alo.
*This article, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.