Waiting for a smart election to have a Smart Bangladesh

Today is 30 December. There's one day left for the New Year to arrive. And 30 December is a significant day in Bangladesh's politics. On this day in 2018, the 11th national parliamentary election was held, in which the Awami League-led alliance won around 97 per cent of the seats. There is, however, much controversy over this election. Those sitting in the 'opposition bench' in parliament now, were also a part of the ruling alliance. Anything is possible in Bangladesh.

In that election, the BNP-led National Front secured only 7 seats. Five of these were won by BNP and two by Gono Forum. Those five from BNP and one member from the reserved seats for women recently resigned from parliament, but the Gono Forum members did not. It is not ascertained as to which faction of the divided Gono Forum they are from, but one of them was seen attending Awami League's council as a 'guest'. Also, Krishak Sramik Janata League party's Abdul Kader Siddiqui, who had been elected in the 2018 election under the National Front banner, was seen to be in high spirits after having called upon Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina a day before Awami League's National Council. He said that it was simply a courtesy call.

There will be several such courtesy calls in the political arena before the coming (12th) national election. However, there are no answers right now as to which direction the election-centred politics will take, how the election will take place, under whom and with whom will it be carried out. In these political equations, both the ruling alliance and the opposition alliance are going through changes, cuts and additions. Awami League and its 14-party alliance talks of tackling the elections and 'conspiracies' unitedly. Many from the grassroots at the Awami League council, however, appealed to the leaders not to 'rent' out the 'boat'.

Awami League leaders feel the 'boat' symbol is the key to winning. But the Rangpur City Corporation election proved them once again to be mistaken. The candidate with the 'plough' symbol, Mostafizar Rahman, won with a record number of votes. The candidate with the 'boat' symbol couldn't even recover his security deposit. In fact, the Islami Oikya Jote candidate secured almost as many votes as the Awami League nominated candidate and the AL rebel candidate together.

Awami League leaders feel the 'boat' symbol is the key to winning. But the Rangpur City Corporation election proved them once again to be mistaken

The main opposition party, BNP, did not take part in the Gaibandha by-election or the Rangpur City Corporation election. It was more or less a one-sided game. Even after that, the performance put on by Awami League at the two elections does not bode well for the party. Awami League leaders are always busy tackling the 'conspiracies' of the opposition. When will they organise the party?

The pandemic which broke out towards the end of 2019, may not have fully gone away by January 2022, but it had subsided considerably. It was hoped people would soon be able to go back to their normal lives. But coming to the end of the year, it has been seen that Covid is appearing again in China, South Korea, India and several other countries. The world then faced yet another calamity in the form of Russia-Ukraine war. The sanctions imposed by the US and other parts of the western world on Russia after the Russian attack on Ukraine, had an impact on Bangladesh as well. Food and fuel prices shot up. Many countries managed to deal with the situation, but the import-dependent Bangladesh was pitched into danger. Unfortunately, it seems our politicians remain oblivious.

Some of our politicians dream of building a Smart Bangladesh, some talk about state repairs, but no one wants to change themselves. Bangladesh has been independent for 51 years now. We have made strides in economic development. People's average life expectancy and income has increased. Education rates have gone up, health services have increased. There has been significant women's empowerment too. People are using their merit and labour to change their lives. The village girls who never came out of their homes, today are working in the garment industry. Many are going overseas too. After getting their degrees in higher education, many youth are returning to their villages to set up modern farms rather than looking for jobs. They are contributing to the country's food production. But those in whose hands the fate of the country lies, who have been running our beloved country for 51 years, have failed to show any success. They have been unable to establish healthy politics in the country.

Bangladesh has left analogue behind to enter into the digital age. Now we are even hearing loud calls for a Smart Bangladesh. But politics remains outdated

Many things have changed in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has left analogue behind to enter into the digital age. Now we are even hearing loud calls for a Smart Bangladesh. But politics remains outdated. Our wise politicians view each other as enemies. They accuse each other of selling out the country. They talk about democracy with their words, but they want to solve all political problems by taking to the streets, not through any democratic means. The political battle is fought between the rulers, while the innocent people lose their lives.

In the meantime, the two sides stand face to face, with their successes and failures in the political battle of December. When BNP announced its nationwide mass process for 24 December, Awami League requested them to withdraw the programme. That was the day for Awami League's national council. BNP changed the date of its Dhaka programme to 30 December. Today they will be carrying out the programme. Meanwhile, Awami League's general secretary Obaidul Quader has said, "Awami League will remain on guard during BNP's programme in Dhaka just as they did on 10 December. This vigil will be set up all over the country." He said, "While they commit arson and violence, will we just stand silent, sucking on lollipops?"

The election to the 11th parliamentary election took place on 30 December 2018. BNP observes this as 'Death of Democracy Day'. Awami League observes it as the day democracy was saved. But why can't we have an election after which all parties together can celebrate democracy? BNP approached Dhaka Metropolitan Police for permission to carry out its mass procession. DMP gave the permission and even specified in which areas the procession could be held. So why does Awami League have to stand guard? Does that mean the Awami League leaders have no confidence in the government? Why do they have this lack of confidence in the administration and the law enforcement?

Can we hope that in the new year, the human rights violations that took place in 2022 will not recur in 2023, that people will not be tortured again for expressing their views? That there will be no clashes over the political programmes of the government and the opposition? If they cannot give this assurance, then they are not qualified to create a Smart Bangladesh or carry out state repairs.

Before making a smart country, the political leadership must be smart. Before repairing the state, the politicians must repair their own mindsets. There must be a smart election.

* Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet.

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