Cure the political disease first

Clash between the supporters of 'boat' and independent candidates on the rise across the countryProthom Alo

I begin by writing about a piece of news that had appeared in The Daily Star. It was reported that at 8:30 Friday morning the AQI score in Dhaka was 311, ranking Dhaka yet again as the city with the most polluted air in the world.

The Air Quality Index classified Dhaka’s air quality as ‘hazardous’. Such air quality creates a health hazard for the city’s residents. The number of deaths due to air pollution related diseases has increased. Dhaka’s air quality is often ranked as the worst, but our politicians have no time to think about such matters. They are busy lashing out at their opponents.

The leaders also are not bothered to speak out about the sufferings of the people in this extreme cold that has gripped the country, how the infants and the elderly are being afflicted with all sorts of winter-related ailments. We hardly ever hear of the political parties coming forward with aid and assistance for the people suffering in the cold.

The debate over the election is not likely to fizzle out any time soon. No matter how the 7 January election took place, the new government has been installed. The parliament session will commence on 30 January, but the election debate has not ended. Earlier the election debate was between the ruling party and the opposition. Now that debate continues brewing within the ruling party itself. It is boat versus the independents.

Awami League adopted innovative ways this time to make the election competitive. As a result, rifts and divides have spread all over, even to the remotest regions. In some instances, the vitriol spewed out by the defeated Awami League candidates has been harsher than that of the opposition leaders. Some claim that their contenders robbed them of their victory. Some claim they were defeated because the ballot papers were stamped forcefully by others, aided and abetted by the administration.

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Given the precarious situation, central leaders of Awami League have decided to visit the districts. Speaking at a party meeting on Wednesday, Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader said that it was a part of the election strategy to give the independent candidates a chance to contest in the election. Now, no matter who won or who lost, everyone must unite and work together. No one will get away if they create violence anywhere. This warning was issued before the election too, but it was not heeded.

Four persons were killed in post-election violence. Over a hundred were injured. In the outbreak of violence, houses were attacked, damaged and looted too. And those involved in these clashes were mostly all workers and supporters the ‘boat’ candidates and the Awami League ‘independent’ candidates. According to BBC, there have been over a hundred such incidents.

The Daily Star reports that the Awami League leadership is considering not allocating the boat symbol in the local government elections, in order to close the gaps within the party. But that decision depends on whether BNP will contest or not in these local government polls. If BNP does boycott these polls, then the ruling party candidature may be free and open. But if BNP does contest in the local government elections, then it is not likely that Awami League will keep the candidature free and open for all.

Habibul Awal spoke of pressure from three sides in the election. We can take it that one pressure came from the opposition and another from the foreign quarters. Was the third pressure from the government?

While Awami League leaders claim that the 7 January election was the best and most peaceful election of all times in the country, the chief election commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal admits openly that there were flaws and inadequacies. Unlike his predecessor, KM Nurul Huda, he did not give the election a clean chit.

In an event on Thursday to ‘offer thanks for carrying out the 12th Jatiya Sangsad election in a fair and successful manner’, the CEC said with regret that the people’s faith in the election system had considerably eroded. If more reforms can be brought about to the election system where more transparency and credibility can be visibly established, then perhaps the elections will be more acceptable to the people in the future. (Manabzamin, 19 January 2024).

He admitted, “No election can rise above all controversy. We may be quite satisfied with the election this time. At the same time we have to say that the election could not rise above debate.”

Habibul Awal spoke of pressure from three sides in the election. We can take it that one pressure came from the opposition and another from the foreign quarters. Was the third pressure from the government? The credit goes more to the opposition than the commission for the election being more or less fair. The opposition boycotted the election, but did not resist it as they did in 2014. They did, however, make a call for an unrealistic non-cooperation.

The CEC made a very important statement regarding politics. He said, “It is the political leadership who must tackle the political crisis. If they fail to do so, the country will be pitched into uncertainty.” By saying so, he admitted that the 7 January election has not served to end the political crisis. Just as the election commission cannot bring an end to that crisis, nor can other people of other sections and professions in the society resolve this. It is for the politicians to resolve. If the aim of the politicians is the welfare of the people and the country, then why can they not sit together and resolve the problems?

The CEC mentioned the politicians’ lack of trust in the election commission. But what he did not say is that the politicians are unable to have confidence in the people. If they did have that confidence, if they did believe that the people are the owners of the republic, then there would not be conflict over the elections for decades on end.

In a democratic system, a caretaker government is not the best path. But when the politicians’ lack of confidence and lack of trust reaches such an extreme, when the behaviour of the members of administration and the law enforcement is no different from ruling party leaders and workers, they what else can be done other than turn to such an alternative system?

In order to rectify the false voters’ list, we made a voters’ list with photographs included. But we failed to hold the election inclusive of all parties. There hadn’t so long been any law about constituting the election commission. A law was enacted and the new comission formed. But the opposition did not accept it. Not only did they refuse to join the election, they even refused to meet with the election commission to put forward their demands. Awami League has similar reservations about the election commission when BNP was in government.

Actually the disease of our politics goes deep. Unless that can be cured, no election reforms will be effective.

The politicians are the ones who will run the country. They will take up policies and plans for the welfare of the people. But if these politicians think of each other as the worst enemies, are constantly focused on the ‘conspiracies’ and ‘plots’ of the opposite side, when will they work for the country and the people?

* 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

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