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Bangladesh Elections 2013: Why Voters Are Not Enthusiastic?

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By Badrul Islam *

An election in Bangladesh continues to be a nightmare for Voters as an undemocratic political culture prevailing since independence, fails to take ethics and human rights into consideration and such an environment continue to lead Bangladeshis to perpetual anxiety, deprivation and inhuman conflict.

The years of 2006, 2007and 2008, is an example of the statement, as Voters witnessed (a) the worst form of political fights, (b) the most brutal methods used to kill fellow politicians and (c) the entire population were held hostage. This awful situation reminds me of what Albert Einstein had rightly said, “Politics is more difficult than Physics and world is likely to die from bad Politics than Physics”.

I have interviewed many voters in Bangladesh in 2008 and 2010, and non- resident Bangladeshis (NRBs) in USA in 2012, to understand their mind and to know what interests them to vote. Their comments can be summarized in three points: (1) how many times in the history of elections, in Bangladesh, have we been deceived into believing that, a party depicted as oppressor is being dethroned only to be replaced by another party which equally oppresses. Very soon it becomes clear to them (Citizen) that the cycle of oppression has not ended; (2) winning or losing elections will not be possible on ideals. Every elections in Bangladesh uses talk of liberation war and the so–called pro- and anti-liberation forces and dwells on mistakes made a long time ago. This type of approach is a way to avoid dealing with current and future realities. Winning or losing will depend on an agenda that raises the hopes of the Citizen for an enriched and secured life. The new generation of voters will be swayed more by candidates who have the experience to formulate policies in education, health, agriculture or other specific areas close to their lives; (3)Nomination of the candidate is the prerogative of the party leader and no one can question for fear of being expelled. Such candidates are often not qualified and give no election manifesto. Thus Citizens vote blindly hoping he is the right person for the constituency. Article 70 of the constitution must be deleted.

The International Crisis Group’s (ICG) Asia report no: 226 dated June 13, 2012 titled “Bangladesh: Back to the Future” is self-explanatory and the executive summary of the report is detailed here for the knowledge of all concerned. “Bangladesh could face a protracted political crisis in the lead –up to the 2013 elections unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government changes course and makes a more conciliatory approach towards political opposition and the military. In December, 2008 following two years of a military- backed caretaker government, the AL secured a landslide victory in what was widely acknowledged to be the fairest election in the country’s history. The hope, both at home and abroad, was that Sheikh Hasina would use her mandate to revitalize democratic institutions and pursue national reconciliation, ending the pernicious cycle of zero-sum politics between her AL and Bangladesh National Party (BNP).Three and half years on hope has been replaced by deep disillusionment, as two familiar threats to Bangladesh’s Democracy have returned: the prospected of election- related violence and risks stemming from an unstable and hostile military. Instead of changing old pattern of politics, the AL government has systematically used parliament, the executive and courts to reinforce it, including by filing corruption cases against Khaleda Zia, the BNP Chairperson, and employing security agencies to curb opposition activities. Most worrying, however, is the AL-dominated parliament’s adoption of the fifteenth amendment to the constitution, which scraps a provision mandating the formation of neutral caretaker administration to oversee general elections. The caretaker system was a major practical and psychological barrier to election-rigging by the party in power. Removing it has undermined opposition parties’ confidence in the electoral system.

The fifteenth amendment carries other dangers as well. For example, anyone who criticizes the constitution may now be prosecuted for sedition; new procedures have rendered further amendments virtually impossible; and death penalty is prescribed for plotting to over throw an elected government- a thinly veiled warning to the military which has done so four times in as many decades.

The fallout from these changes is already clear. The BNP gave an ultimatum to the government to re-instate the caretaker system by June 10, 2012 or face battles on the street. To this end, it has rallied 100,000 supporters in Dhaka in March for a protest that turned violent. With the deadline passed and no action from the government, it is now calling for a political agitation. A BNP-led boycott of 2013 general elections may be in the offing.

Meanwhile, the military is visibly restive. 0n 19 January, it announced it had foiled a coup by mid-level and retired officers who sought to install an Islamist government. This followed an assassination attempt on an AL member of parliament in 0ctober 2009 by mid-level officers seething over the deaths of 57 officers in a mutiny by their sub-ordinate paramilitary border guards the previous February. Large-scale dismissals, forced retirements deepening politicsation and a heavy-handed approach to curb dissent and root out militants have created an unstable and undisciplined force. While top- level coup is unlikely, prospect of mid-level officers resorting to violence to express their suppressed anger is increasingly high.

Should the situation deteriorate to the point that the army again decides to intervene, it is unlikely to be content to prop up civilian caretakers and map a course to fresh election as it did in 2007. This time the generals could be expected to have more staying power, not to mention less reluctance to carry out “minus-two” their previous plan to remove Shaikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia from politics. Even if such a worst-case scenario seems remote, it is clear that a new electoral stalemate threatens to erode Bangladesh democratic foundations.

In addition to the above alarming report of the IGC, statement of the previous State Minister for Home, Tanjim Ahmed widely known as Sohel Taj , MP from Gazipur-4, absolutely confirms the fact that all is not politically well within the ruling party. Taj resigned from parliament on on 23 April 2012; three years earlier he resigned as State Minister for Home Affairs. A mystery is revolving on his sudden resignation and more so on the dilly- dally tactics of the Speaker for accepting the resignation. Without making clear what prompted him to stand down, Taj said “There is always something to add to what is said. There is lot of hidden truth that should not be made public for the sake of the country, people and party. And it cannot be said in public either. I can tell you that I have had appropriate reasons relinquishing the 0ffices of MP and Minister”. Will accepting his resignation embarrass the Government?

It would be interesting for Citizens to note the similarity of the statement of Taj and the verdict of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. It declared illegal, the caretaker system, but, it also mentioned that the void system, may be practiced, for another two parliamentary terms for the sake of “Safety of the State and the People”

So what’s with these terms,” State, People and Safety”? To my mind, throughout the world, all actions are centered on these three words; the formation of government, its performance, internal relations between the government and the opposition, election or a coup-de-tat, International relations and policies. Presently in the United States of America (USA), TV channels shows, the on-going debates amongst the candidates for Presidential Election in November, 2012. All debates are about what each candidate can do for the development the State, improving its image , internationally, enhancing all kinds of welfare activities for the People, and improving its security system for the safety ( State and People). The debates critically analyses their own and opposing candidates programs and methods of its implementation. Unlike Bangladesh there is no character assassinations, no accusations of selling the country, no personal attacks and no aggressive statements between the candidates.

So what is the reason behind this political etiquette? The First President of the USA, late George Washington had set “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior” in company or conversation of which the First, “Every action done in company, ought to be with some Sign of Respect, to those that are present”; the Forty-Ninth, “Use no Reproachful Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile” and the Fiftieth, “Be not hasty to believe in flying Reports to the Disparagement of any”. All these are deftly followed by all Americans. This is a good lesson for Bangladesh

What can the Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina and the Leader of the 0pposition, Khaleda Zia do to end the political conflicts? My suggestions are as follows:--

Firstly they have to understand that the seat of power and learning both have shifted to the Western Countries (America and Europe).

Secondly, take lessons from the international political situation. Coups in the Maldives and Mali against democratically elected leaders and the continuing political struggle in Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria, following the Arab Spring are patent reminders that democracy is a fragile institute.

Thirdly, they must realize that democracy as a regime is justified by its ability to deliver public goods to a broad spectrum of Citizen; not just to an elite group.

Fourthly, they should know their current status in the country “The Daily Star” conducted an 0n-line poll wherein 87.8% (total votes 499) voted to express their disagreement that PM Sheikh Hasina’s government has implemented more than what the party pledged in 2008.

Fifthly, they should be aware of the public evaluation on their performance. The former Chief Election Commissioner, Shamsul Huda statement says it all. He said “the type of democracy practiced in Bangladesh is vulgarized by the ruling party, which encourages black money and muscle power in the absence of the rule of law. Instead of building institutions, the ruling party in most cases, try to destroy institutions like the Election Commission and the Judiciary. They also to politicize the bureaucracy, police, administration and dangerously, the Military”-(Daily Star, February 24, 2012)

In view of the above, it is imperative that both, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the 0pposition adopt a positive attitude and vow to sit down, for a dialogue to discuss and sort out all their personal and political differences. However, they must sit alone, with the objective for finding solutions, be unconditionally constructive, respect the right to differ and be receptive to consider alternatives. Until the dialogue is completed, and an agreement is reached, no information will be given to MPs and Media personnel.

During their dialogues all other Members of Parliament (MP) must be instructed not to interfere, conduct themselves professionally and respect other MPs. They should stop all suggestions of undemocratic ideas like conspiracy theory, the third force and blame game between themselves. Conspiracy and Third forces operations are only possible with the assistance of the insiders within. The assassination of Julius Ceasar is an example.

In this modern world of IT technology, the Citizens of the country are well informed of the methods the Governments of the Western Countries use to fulfill their election pledges to their Citizen and how their 0pposition plays an effective “Check and Balance” role. The Bangladesh Citizens demands the same form their elected representatives.

While offering my deep respect, to the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and to the Honorable Leader of the 0pposition, I wish to state that let the change and Vision 2021, become a reality, through a successful dialogue.

* Badrul Islam is an independent Researcher and Freelancer. He previously worked for the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority and various United Nations 0rganization in Bangladesh and East Africa. He can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

[Source: Countercurrents.org]

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