There is a flurry of activities with the elections ahead. These activities are within the political parties and outside too. Leaders of the ruling political party harshly castigate their political opponents for approaching foreign quarters with their grievances. Yet they themselves go to the same foreign diplomatic missions to talk about the election. Such politics is not only contradictory, but hypocritical too.
It is Bangladesh's election, the people of Bangladesh will cast their votes, political parties will contest in the election, and the election commission will arrange the election. So why are the foreigners speaking out? They are speaking out for the simple reason that we have failed to resolve our own problems. In order words, we have given the foreigners the scope to speak out.
Our political leadership uses the people to come to power. But once in power, it is the people that they neglect the most.
Bangladesh was established 52 years ago with the commitment to equality, democracy and social justice. The people of Bangladesh faced brutal genocide in 1971 for this independence. Then why can the people of this Bangladesh not cast their votes fearlessly? The people are not to blame for this. It is those who pose as the 'masters of the people' that are to blame. Three parties basically have ruled the country since independence -- Awami League, BNP and Jatiya Party. They sometimes ruled alone, sometimes along with like-minded parties.
So if there are any problems relating to the elections in the country, the successive ruling classes are responsible. Our people have never taken any wrong decision, whether in 1954 or 1970, or in 1991, 1996, 2001 or 2008. Whenever they have had the chance to freely elect their representatives, they have selected the correct leadership. But our successive political leaderships have not kept their promises of "state repairs" or "change". Once they come to power, they think this is permanent.
Our political leadership uses the people to come to power. But once in power, it is the people that they neglect the most. To them, the "party people", their "own people" become important.
As these words about the election are being written, those in power and those aspiring to come to power, are busy with all sorts of activities. They are meeting with the foreign diplomats for lunch and dinner. They are explaining the stances of their respective parties. They do not tell the people of the country the things that they are telling the foreign diplomats.
BNP says it will not go to the elections under any political government. Awami League says the election will be held in accordance to the constitution, under the political government. So wherein lies the solution? We saw one solution in 2014 -- a one sided election. Of the 39 registered parties, only 12 took part in the polls. Another solution is, not holding the election at all, as in 2007. BNP has tried to forcefully hold the election, but failed. The unwarranted 1/11 government came to power and the election was set back by two years.
In 2007, along with others, Awami League had taken up 'sticks and poles' to thwart BNP's one-sided election. BNP failed to thwart the 2014 election with arson and protest. And so that election failed to gain credibility. Jatiya Party's Hussain Muhammad Ershad had declared he would not join the election, but the party went ahead to contest in the election under Raushon Ershad. What transpired, is no secret. Democracy cannot be ushered in through deception or force.
There is one question in the public mind, how will the election, supposed to be held at the end of 2023 or beginning 2024, be? Are we to see a one-sided election all over again, or will it include all parties? An inclusive election does not mean allocating election symbols and drawing up a candidate list, and then keeping the opposition candidates under 'house arrest'. No matter how much the government's propaganda machinery denies what the people can clearly see, a lie does not become the truth.
BNP has organisational problems, as we recently saw in the expulsion of the party's vice chairman Shaukat Mahmood. The rift in Jatiya Party's leadership is clear. The rift will widen as the election draws closer. One faction of the party wants an inclusive election with the participation of all parties including BNP. The other faction wants to cling onto the position of opposition in parliament. They know that if BNP joins the election, they will not manage to hold on to that position. This party has the most advantageous position amidst the Awami League-BNP squabble.
There is a saying that the past never loses relevance. Awami League's landslide victory in 2018 now proves to be its nemesis. It has become a burden to the party. In 2018, even BNP leaders didn't imagine they would win and go to power. But they wanted a decent position. That does not mean that BNP leaders would be made to win even if they didn't secure votes. But at least the BNP candidates should have been given the chance to contest, to be able to go to the voters, to be able to have polling agents at the polling centres.
The election commission once again has sent a letter to BNP, calling them to talks. In the letter written to BNP's secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal said, "We have no comments about your party's political decisions and strategy. But even though rejected by you, the election commission feels that informal talks and exchange of opinion, if not formal, can be held with Bangladesh Nationalist Party, one of the largest political parties of the country, regarding the national election."
When this election commission took over office, it held meetings with representatives of all political parties, civil society and the media. At that time too, the election commission invited BNP to talks. BNP did not go. We do not deny the justification of BNP's ongoing movement to press forward their 10 points, including the resignation of the government. But even so, we feel that they should accept the election commission's offer for talks. Talks do not mean reaching an agreement. Talks can be held to voice differences. We want to remind them, in 2006 when President Iajuddin Ahmad took over as chief advisor, overriding the opposition's demands, Awami League leaders still went ahead and held talks with him. Yet they didn't budge from their stance.
If BNP can talk to Dhaka Metropolitan Police over the venue of their public meetings, why can't they talk with the election commission?
* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. He can be contacted at [email protected]
* This column appeared in the print an online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir