Election vibes in the administration too

It was assumed that the political parties would start their election campaigns in full swing from the new year. According to the decision of the election commission (EC), the 12th national parliamentary election will be held on 5 January 2024. That gives them a full one year to campaign. But election campaigning has started well before that, with the public meeting of the prime minister and Awami League president Sheikh Hasina on 24 November at Jashore. This is her first public rally outside of Dhaka since the Covid outbreak.

The prime minister's call at this meeting was, "You gave us the opportunity to serve you by voting for the boat symbol and ensuring our victory. I want you to pledge now that you will vote for the boat symbol in the coming election too and give Awami League the opportunity to serve you." She criticised BNP, saying that when they came to power, they failed to provide anything other than killings, corruption and money laundering. Awami League leaders termed this as the largest public rally in Jashore ever.

While the prime minister was in Jashore seeking votes, BNP was preparing for its divisional rally in Cumilla. The party's leaders and activists have gathered at today's (Saturday) rally site from two days ago.

The law enforcement gave BNP permission to hold its rally, on 10 conditions. Earlier, they held rallies in Sylhet, Khulna, Mymensingh, Faridpur, Barishal and Chattogram, amid various conditions and restraints. Awami League and its affiliated bodies held rallies in Dhaka and other places of the country at the same time, though no conditions were heard of in their case.

The government, two days ago, took the decision to create two new divisions -- Padma and Meghna. The headquarters of Padma would be in Faridpur and that of Meghna would be in Cumilla. The people of Cumilla and Faridpur are unhappy over this decision.

There have been protests from the civil society. BNP's central vice president Barkatullah Bulu said, if BNP forms the government in future, it will change the name of the proposed Meghna division and make it Cumilla Division. Earlier, the Cumilla Sadar member of parliament has appealed to the prime minister to create a division in the name of Cumilla. The people of Cumilla and Faridpur are questioning, the divisions are to be named after rivers, then why only two? Let all the divisions be named after rivers.

Amid all the turmoil in politics in recent times, one piece of good news is that the Cumilla district transport owners association decided not to hold any strike ahead of BNP's public rally there. The BNP leaders greeted this decision of the association. During the rallies held earlier, announced and unannounced transport strikes has been held in the concerned areas. Not only did the people going to the rally suffer, but the general people too had to face immense hardship. Such strikes and disruptions targeting the rallies of any party are completely unwarranted.

There had been confusion over the 10 December rally called by BNP in Dhaka, but that hopefully seems to be clearing up. Home minister Asaduzzaman Khan has said that BNP will be given permission to hold its rally in Suhrawardy Udyan. Prior to that, BNP had met with Dhaka Metropolitan Police officials and submitted a letter asking for permission to hold their rally in front of the party office in Naya Paltan of the capital city. Since after 2015, BNP several times had sought permission to hold rallies at Suhrawardy Udyan, but were not given permission. Now that permission has been granted, BNP should grab this opportunity.

Over enthusiastic leaders of both BNP and Awami League are stirring up agitation over the 10 December public rally. A BNP leader has said that after 10 December, the country will run at Khaleda Zia's directives.

Over the last few weeks, several police officials, including police supers, have been sent on forced retirement. It was said that they are lacking in competence

In response, the Awami League declared in chorus that BNP will not be allowed to take to the streets in December. Last Wednesday in the secretariat, minister for information and broadcasting Hasan Mahmud said on the day of BNP's 10 December rally, Awami League leaders and activists will take up vigil in every ward. This vigil targetting the public rally indicates that Awami League has no intention of allowing BNP to hold its rally unhindered. Clashes and conflict are inevitable.

It is not the language of democracy when Awami League decides to hold a programme on the same day of BNP's rally. Awami League's vigil programme also indicates it has no confidence in the government that is in power under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina. They are wanting to take the responsibility of ensuring peace and order from the law enforcement into their own hands.

The main problem of democratic rule in Bangladesh is that the government and the ruling party become one. Awami League leaders and activists do not want to understand the simple fact that unless the administration and the party can be kept separate, it will never be possible to establish the rule of law and democracy. When BNP was in power, their people didn't want to understand this either. So are BNP and Awami League only different in their slogans and garb?

The prime minister's seeking votes from the people in Jashore is not the only indication that preparation is on for the election. Election preparation has kicked off in the administration too. Over the last few weeks, several police officials, including police supers, have been sent on forced retirement. It was said that they are lacking in competence. If they are so incompetent, how were they in service for so long? On the night of 23 November, new deputy commissioners (DCs) were appointed to 23 districts.

Of them, the Chattogram DC Mohammad Mominur Rahman was transferred as DC to Dhaka, the Kishoreganj DC Mohammad Shamim Alam to Cumilla, Jaipurhat DC Md Shariful Islam to Patuakhali, Barishal DC Jasimuddin Haider to Tangail, Sunamganj DC Md Jahangir Hossain to Barishal and Nilphamari DC Khandakar Yasir Arefin to Khulna.     

Meanwhile, the state minister for religious affairs' personal secretary (PS) Didare Alam Mohammad Maksud Chowdhury has been posted as DC of Sunamganj, deputy secretary of the cabinet division Kazi Mahbubul Alam to Gopalganj, deputy secretary of the public administration ministry Abul Bashar Mohammad Fakhruzzaman to Chattogram, finance division's deputy secretary Mohammad Saidul Arif to Kurigram, local government deputy director of the Rajshahi division commissioner's officer Dr Chitralekha Nazneen to Rangpur as DC.

Earlier, on 27 October, the government transferred a senior secretary and two secretaries. Also, a secretary was made senior secretary and three additional secretaries were promoted to the rank of secretary.

Senior secretary of the primary and mass education ministry Aminul Islam Khan has been transferred as senior secretary of the home ministry's public safety division. Mohammad Mesbah Uddin Chowdhury who had been promoted as senior secretary of the local government division, has been transferred to the public administration ministry.

Even though industries secretary Zakia Sultana was posted as information secretary, this was later withdrawn. Humayun Kabir Khandakar, who was to be transferred as industries secretary, has been made secretary of information and broadcasting. He has previously been secretary of the election commission secretariat. Additional secretary attached to the public security division, Jahangir Alam, has been appointed as election commission secretary.

Such a large number of DC transfers all at one time, has not taken place in the recent past. This is clearly a part of pre-election preparations. That is why it is said that the vibes of the election are not just on the streets, but in the administration too.

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be reached at [email protected]

* This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir