10 dangers of a one-sided election

All the elections held in Bangladesh after independence, prove that elections held in the country under party governments have never been fair. But the examples of the most castigated one-sided elections have been in the years 1986, 1996 (15 February), 2014 and 2018. And now 2014 is about to join the list. The manner in which this election is being held has all indications of long planning, research and preparations.

Often when we hear the things said by the government quarters, we are taken aback. How can people speak in such a contrary manner? For example, "we have come to power by votes in the election." But we are all well aware that after this government came to power with a landslide of votes in the 2008 election, no further government came to power by means of election. The 2014 and 2018 elections will go down in history with the labels of 'one-sided' election and 'night-time' election. Force played a major role in both elections.

Then again, the government claims to have "zero tolerance" towards corruption, but everyone can see the unprecedented increase in corruption. They say that "no project will be taken up at the cost of the environment", yet never before has there been so much destruction of rivers, wetlands, forests and the environment as in the past one decade.

Amid all of this, however, Obaidul Quader has uttered some truths. For example, he has repeated said, "The game is on!" It is true. It is being more and more apparent that this has been a carefully drawn up game. He often speaks of things happening "behind the scenes." That is true too. Much has been happening behind the scenes.

The first part of the game was for Awami League to come up with programmes to counter each and every one of BNP's programmes. This peaceful game of programmes and counter programmes ended on 28 October. The second part of the game is creating violence and a one-sided election. Arrests, repression and suppression were a major part of this phase where masked miscreants raided homes and there were even killings. There was death in police custody, thousands of cases, overnight verdicts and so on. Along with this were buses being set on fire, trains being torched. On one hand was the repression and torture, and on the other hand was grounds being created to justify this. The horrific manifestation of all this came in the form of a four being killed, including a mother and her three-year-old child.

BNP says the government is doing this. The government says BNP is doing this. The truth would be known if the inquiry committee could do its job properly. There seems no possibility of that happening.

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From the government's attitude, it seems that they are out to make a permanent arrangement to remain at the helm. For the time being they have the model of their 2014 and 2018 elections. The 2014 model was a one-sided election in absence of any major rival. Awami won uncontested in 153 seats in that election, where 151 was required to go to power. The 2018 model was there would be a major opponent, by everything would be including the polling centres and the election commission would be under their full control, and the ballot box would be stuffed the night before.

It looks like the government was ready with both models this time. With BNP not coming to the polls, things are heading towards the 2014 model, but with some additions. With national and international attention on the election, it has become important for the government to bring voters to the voting centres, to drum up enthusiasm. So even though the winners have been decided upon in advance, there is campaigning, songs, posters, innumerable rallies and meetings, and excitement being generated in the media over independent and dummy candidates. In 2018 voters were threatened not to come to the voting centres. Now they are being threatened to ensure that they come.

The state and many other institutions are under government control now. They are all functioning as ordered. On top of that, a large section of the intellectual community has stood firmly in favour of this election. Many university teachers, writers, artistes, painters, and cultural activists are holding all sorts of events in support of the election. The duty of the intellectual community is not to function at the command of the government, not to lend its blind support. But these established persons are so dependent on the government that they are unwilling to speak out against the uncontrolled corruption during this government, the pilferage of resources, the looting of banks, the price hikes, projects like Rampal that are destroying the Sundarbans and the environment, the torture chambers in the university halls, secretly changing textbooks at the behest of Islamic extremists, the attacks on the minority, land grabbing and the role of the ruling party people in creating a reign of terror.

The state of education will deteriorate further. Spineless and greedy persons will be in the administration of the universities. The teachers will be silent followers. The hapless state of the students in the halls will be exacerbated

It is rare to find such an example of learned and intellectual people anywhere in the world offering such undivided support to the government. We saw this in Bangladesh around 50 years ago. I was a college student at the time. I remember the scene: writers, artistes, intellectuals lining up to support BKSAL. Only a handful like Ahmed Sharif, Shamsur Rahman and Shahadat Chowdhury remained away from all this. But just a few months after that, these enthusiastic supporters were no longer so dedicated and loyal. Some joined hands with Zia, many with Ershad. This trend remerged after 2009.

Since then, the number of such persons has been on the rise, as has their obeisance and sycophancy. But amidst extreme adversity, a section of relatively young writers, artistes, journalists and teacher have remained vocal not just against the election, but also in demand of democratic rights for the society as a whole.

Anyway, is it very hard to discern how the country is hurtling towards a serious disaster with one such election being held after the other and all accountability being smashed to smithereens just to cling on to power? I can see the emergence 10 clear dangers resulting from this treacherous trek. These are:

1. All institutions of the people and independent institutional processes will cease to exist. "Orders from above" will take on extreme proportions. A one person centered rule will be fully established. This will encompass everything, including the election commission, human rights commission, anti-corruption commission, the courts, universities, the state bank and all.

2. A coterie much wealthier than Pakistan's 22 families, has been created, disparity has increased manifold. This small group has emerged by means of bank loan default, grabbing of land and rivers, shares in exorbitantly costly projects, and insidious grasp on the lucrative power sectors. This system bereft of accountability protects them. With this system gaining strength and power, looting of resources and disparity will grow even further.

3. We see the politicsation of the various forces of the government and their uncontrolled power. With their power growing further, there will be an increase in extrajudicial arrests, surveillance and a general sense of public insecurity all around.

4. The state of education will deteriorate further. Spineless and greedy persons will be in the administration of the universities. The teachers will be silent followers. The hapless state of the students in the halls will be exacerbated.

5. With the system of accountability breaking down, there will be an increase in systemic killing on the roads, by dengue and more.

6. The development of knowledge will be restricted to the government narratives. Questions, analysis, debate and such components of a lively society will be suppressed. Blind support and sycophancy will increase. Force and dependence of religion will increase in the state ad politics.

7. The struggle for equality among the hill and plains people, against gender, racial and language-based discrimination will come under further pressure and repression. The insecurity of the working class and the minority community will increase.

8. Freedom of expression and media is suppressed already by legal and illegal means. Autocratic pressure will increase in the days to come on art and culture too.

9. The global balance of power is precarious at the moment. Bangladesh now features importantly in the plans of India, China, the US, and Russia to increase their respective domination. Their unity and disunity will both put Bangladesh under pressure and risks will multiply.

10. The scope for clandestine and open deals that go against the interests of the nation will increase for the sake of commissions and power.

This state of affairs means that the rhetoric of the liberation war spirit will continue while the country to slide in the opposite direction. The government and those who support all this, who instigate it further out of greed, will all have to take the blame for this disaster.

* Anu Muhammad is a teacher, writer and the editor of the quarterly Sarbajankatha

* 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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