The government now does not have to answer to anyone, inside the parliament or outside. Certain members of the official opposition, Jatiya Party, sometimes try to raise loud voices in parliament, but the fear of cases being levelled against them soon turns their volume down. The party's chairman had been silenced for a few months due to a case and so they feel low voices are better than complete silence.
In the meantime, while not saying anything in parliament, at the meetings of the 14 Party alliance, Awami League's allies are trying to drive a bargain to increase their number of seats. Prothom Alo reported that a number of Islamic parties are trying to enter the Awami League-led alliance. This may not give them religious rewards, but financial dividends instead. Financial dividends, not ideals and principles, are the name of the game in today's politics.
In how many other countries of the world is there so much clashes and conflict, violence and chaos over the elections. We fight for democracy, we win, but then we do not know how to practise democracy
The chief election commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal has recently been repeatedly saying it is the political leadership that must resolve the political crisis over the elections. His words hinted at talks between the ruling party and the opposition. The problem is, if no party admits that there is a political problem, then how will a solution come about? The ruling party maintains that the election will be held in accordance to the constitution. If any party wants to join the election, they will. If they don't want to join, they won't. There will be no requests or pleading. What they say is quite correct, but wasn't that correct too when BNP was in power? At that time, Awami League and almost all other opposition parties launched a movement, forcing BNP to amend the constitution.
Jamaat-e-Islam hadn't sided with BNP at the time. They carried out a simultaneous movement with Awami League on the same issue. In the same manner, at present, the 20 party, 7 party and 12 party alliance are all in a movement demanding a caretaker government. In how many other countries of the world is there so much clashes and conflict, violence and chaos over the elections. We fight for democracy, we win, but then we do not know how to practise democracy.
In order to overcome political crisis, political leadership amended the constitution and ushered in the caretaker government system. Then again, they abolished that system. But they have failed to overcome the crisis. Why has the debate over elections been continuing for 51 years? Why are Awami League and BNP running to the foreigners? Why do those at the helm have to time and again reassure the foreigners that the next election will be free, fair and inclusive? And after all this, we still have been unable to emerge from hybrid democracy.
It is true that fair elections are no guarantee for democracy. But democracy cannot be even conceived of without fair elections. The things that the Awami League leaders are saying about the elections now, were also said by the BNP leaders when they were in power. And what the BNP leaders are saying now, had been said by Awami League leaders when they were in the opposition. Our political leadership, with the change of power positions, also change the definitions of good governance and democracy. But democracy is not something that will have one definition when Awami League is in power and another when BNP is at the helm.
When asked if she would hold dialogue with BNP leaders in order to resolve the election-related crisis that had emerged, prime minister Sheikh Hasina on 13 March told newspersons, "Why will I hold dialogue? We held dialogue in 2018, what was the result? They did nothing but make the election controversial." She brought up certain political incidents and bitter experiences of the past and said, "After all of that, why should we hold talks with them?"
The next day, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir responded to the prime minister's words. He said, "We will not hold any dialogue with her. Why will we hold dialogue with her? She does not keep her word."
This is the first time I found Awami League and BNP in consensus. Neither side wants to hold talks with each other. Both the sides are inflexible in their respective stands. So how will the election be held? Mirza Fakhrul has not just stopped at not holding dialogue. He has even spoken about resisting a one-sided election by Awami League. Does this resistance mean hartals (general strikes) again, the use of force!
Awami League will want to hold the election in its own style. BNP will want to resist that. In that case, clashes are inevitable.
The country is going through an economic crisis at present. The spiralling market prices have impacted public life. If election-related political crisis and clashes ensue, the situation will be alarming. Have the political leaders bothered to take that into cognizance?
The ruling party leaders claim that they are not under any pressure from foreign quarters. But their actions and expressions do not say that. They rile up the party workers at their rallies with heated rhetoric. But when they speak to the foreigners, they tone down and change their tune. When will politics emerge from such contradictions?
* Sohrab Hassan is Prothom Alo's joint editor and a poet. He can be reached 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