Promoting democracy with dictator

The election 2014 is now over after all the bizarre and violence, leaving behind an unpalatable wound. It is unpalatable because it has shattered the very base of democracy Bangladesh has built over the last 22 years. Those who have won the election might have strengthened their political clout by elbowing out their political opponents but we doubt whether they can relish it honestly. The taste of a well-fought battle is different – it is enormous, endless. The victory that comes through dirty mechanism, maneuvering, machination and engineering that deprive the winners of its real taste. In such cases, the winners look for ways to hide their faces.


The election the people of Bangladesh saw on January 5, 2014 was really shameful. Did the electorate wait for the last five years to see such a bad show? This is more painful for those who did not have the opportunity to exercise their franchise at all. There was too much of maneuvering this time that shamed us all. Is this the democracy for which the country’s two major political parties — Bangladesh Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) — had fought together against military dictator HM Ershad in the 80s? This is the man who was dubbed as ‘Biswa Behaya’ (the scum of the world) by country’s eminent artist Qumrul Hassan in his sketch just before his sad demise in 1988. This is the title which was acclaimed by all across the country the day it was published as nothing else could be more befitting than this for a man who has stigmatised the country’s politics.


The entire 80s was a tumultuous decade for Bangladesh when the student community stood against him for his corruption and ruthless treatment of opposition, let alone his scandalous personal life. This is the man who had diluted the political principles and social values. This is the man who could not make a visit to the University of Dhaka, the centre of the country’s all historic political movements, during his rule because of the hatred the university students had shown against him. Though his regime finally fell in December 1990, he managed to stay afloat in politics. The man who is blamed for spoiling a generation with his nasty politics is now the kingmaker. His Jatiya Party this time won 33 seats — 20 without any contest – thanks to Awami League for its unqualified patronage to him.


There are reasons for people to be suspicious when the dictator and the ‘protector of the constitution’ are seen on the same board. Now there is an opposition which is loyal to the government, and there is a government that shops at the opposition camp to annihilate the real opposition. This is a good maneuvering to perpetuate power but not a good step at all to institutionalise democracy.


When the democrat and dictator sing the same song that indicates the bumpy path of democracy is getting even bumpier. The bad days are ahead. The people of the country had expected there will be a political compromise paving the path for a participatory election. But our political leaders dashed their hope with their stubbornness. They have not only diluted the principles of democracy but also reshaped the constitution, the country’s valued document, in their own fashion to gain their won interest. The sanctity of the constitution is compromised when it is amended at one’s own will. That does not mean that the constitution is not changeable. It is of course amendable but that should be aimed at ensuring the greater interest of the country’s people. Unfortunately, this basic principle is hardly practiced.


After the election on January 5 that was marked by low turnout and unprecedented violence, the dust has started settling down but the deep wound caused by the mockery is unlikely to be healed anytime soon. There is an eerie calm everywhere. This pent-up mood may explode anytime. Though the government is relishing its victory in the flawed election, there is no denying that the coming days will be more challenging for lack of international recognition, law and order downside and the slowing down economy. Flying high in a vulnerable balloon is always risky. Even though the government ministers claim they are there for five years, there is no guarantee that the government will be able to do so as there are various vulnerabilities for a demoralised government.


This is for the first time in 22 years an elected government has received predictably a cool international recognition. Even the countries that have reluctantly greeted the new government, except India, did not forget in reminding it that the election was flawed and non-inclusive, and they are still looking for a fresh election that would reflect the will of the country’s majority people.  If the remarks of the newly sworn-in ministers are taken into account it can easily be said they are reckless and least bothered about international recognition.


Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself and Awami League general secretary and LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam have already said that the days of intimidating any country in the name of recognition are over as Bangladesh is no longer a ‘bottomless basket case’ as dubbed by Henry Kissinger after the birth of Bangladesh. There is no doubt that Bangladesh has made a marked progress in many areas after its independence but one should not be under any illusion that this country of 1.6 million people can move on its own. At this age of globalised world it sounds childish if one boasts of being able to govern the country cutting ties with the international community.


It is understandable the imprudent and unguarded remarks being made by the new ministers are nothing but rhetoric. They must be well aware the damage has been done by ignoring the international community’s call for holding an inclusive election needs to be fixed as soon as possible. One minister has already indicated that a ‘silent diplomacy’ is on to revive the relations with the countries that have got annoyed with the current regime for the unilateral election.


Although the ruling party leaders are making offensive remarks, they are also giving an indication that a solution to the ongoing political conflict is still possible if the BNP parts the company of Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, an Islamic party which is blamed for unleashing horrifying violence throughout the country in recent months, particularly after the verdicts by the International War Crimes Tribunals (ICTs).


On January 13, Syed Ashraf said that behind-the-scene talks with the BNP were going on to have political solution, but the BNP does not trust them as the ruling party leaders bought time before the election in the name of dialogue. An ill-effort was always there by the government to keep the BNP-led alliance out of the election race and they did it smartly and came out successful in their all tricks against their arch rival. The tragedy for the BNP was that it stepped into all the traps set by the ruling coalition. What the BNP did in 1996 in a crude manner, the ruling Awami League did it in a smarter fashion undercover of the constitution. They had sidelined the BNP with the slogan of protecting the constitution and they were still singing the same refrain.


The problem with the BNP is that it could not come out with a strategic plan that could match the Awami League’s design that it chalked out right after assuming power in early 2009 following its landslide victory in an election that was overseen by a military-backed government.


An election is not an election when there is no opposition. Election means engaging in a competition. Election means the mode of resolving a political crisis. Election means putting before the electorate so many choices. Election means putting democracy on a strong footing. The democracy-loving people of this poor country have largely been deprived of this opportunity this time. They have got tired of hearing hollow lectures on democracy and constitution. They have got tired of seeing the same deceptive faces for decades. Now they are looking for good guys who can guide.

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