by Mahfuz Anam
THE party that has always been known to depend solely on people’s power for all its activities since birth in 1949 has brutally, ruthlessly and according to plan used state power to ‘hijack’ the just concluded election and deny people their right to vote just to ensure its stay in power.
What was dubbed as an election was engineered, its results bulldozed and the so-called victory that emanated from it was predetermined as evidenced by the fact that a majority of seats — 153 out of 300 — were already ‘won’ before a single vote was cast. If this is not predetermined, then what is? Then again, formation of a new government, which is the central purpose of any national election, happened without the voters playing any part in the process as results of majority seats were determined without voters. In the truest sense voters for 153 seats were disenfranchised.
If in a democracy, as Abraham Lincoln would have us believe, that a government is “of the people, by the people and for the people”, then the government that emerged after 5th January’s so-called election is neither “of the people” nor “by the people.” Whether it becomes one “for the people” is for the future to tell.
Events relating to the election reminded us of a joke from the Soviet era in which party Secretary-General Brezhnev calls an emergency meeting of the politburo and says: “Comrades, the proletarian republic faces a grave and unprecedented crisis, probably a conspiracy of the US imperialists. Our next year’s elections results have been stolen.”
Well, our election results were not stolen but the whole election was, and a so-called public verdict was extracted without the public participating in the process.
Whatever else she might have done, Sheikh Hasina surely did not strengthen democracy by holding the January 5th election, which is what she has always claimed to be struggling for. Under the guise of constitutional continuity she forced an election that officially had only 39% voter turnout for only 147 seats, signifying a drastic fall from last election’s 87% turnout for 300 seats.
The credibility of the official figure is under severe doubt as the daylong coverage by both the print and electronic media proves beyond doubt that turn-out could not have been above 15%-20%.
The biggest loss from the January 5th election is perhaps the destruction of public confidence, built over the last two decades, that every five years voters will have a chance to express their views freely and without intimidation and that there was no force that could prevent them from doing so.
That confidence stands totally shattered and the contrary view stands proven, if proof was ever necessary, that given the nature of our two biggest political parties, free and fair election is not possible under a party government, be it AL or BNP.
We feel compelled to ask a fundamental constitutional question as to whether or not the January 5th election has given birth to a “one person state”. We do so not so much as a criticism but more as a friend of democracy to alert our Prime Minister of the enormous power she has now accumulated in her hands and the consequent danger she runs of falling into the trap that Lord Acton had justly warned us of: “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
A modern state is supposed to have three pillars — executive, legislative and judiciary. Today, Sheikh Hasina unquestionably and effectively controls two. As is our practice the PM traditionally and totally controls the executive branch.
As for the legislative branch, the PM as the leader of the House normally has a lot of influence. However, the new development after the latest election is that even the opposition is now a handmaiden of the PM, with part of it being in the cabinet and other part in the opposition (first time in our history). We all know how the leader of the opposition came into being and how the so-called opposition is bargaining with the ruling party for more ministerial berths. Under these circumstances the Leader of the House is likely to have full control of the legislative branch.
That leaves only the judiciary, on which traditionally the executive branch always had enormous influence through the appointment process of the judges. With the highest respect for our higher judiciary one cannot escape the reality of the executive branch’s enormous influence.
Thus we now have a state structure that has no check upon the government and especially the Prime Minister’s powers. As experience has shown from governments the world over, the key to good governance lies in effective distribution of power between the various ‘pillars’ of a modern state. Governments are kept under effective monitoring and oversight by the legislative branch and on occasions by the judiciary. Where there has been too much concentration of power of one branch of the state over the other disastrous consequences occurred in the whole process of governance. Without a ‘check and balance’ of power our governance process is likely to degenerate even further.
In normal circumstances a party getting a two-thirds majority in the House has always led to disastrous consequences. South Asia is rich in such history which is popularly known as the “Curse of Two-Third Majority”. With three-fourths majority, a handpicked and henpecked opposition and the emergence of a leader with unchecked power and no institution that can hold her accountable, the risks of Lord Acton’s warnings coming true loom large.
Let it be on record that we rang the first warning bell.
The writer is Editor and Publisher, The Daily Star.
Source: The Daily Star