You Cannot Be Serious: Jan 5 Polls to Set a New Standard for Travesty

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By Zafar Sobhan

My initial reaction to the political machinations and maneuvers in the run-up to the upcoming elections is: you cannot be serious. It sometimes seems as though we reside not in an independent country at all, but inside the world of some kind of elaborate farce or comedy sketch. What can you say about elections in which fully 154 seats out of 300 are going to be uncontested, with the sole candidates in those constituencies elected unopposed? Doesn’t that seem, a tad … what is the word I’m looking for here … oh, that’s right … undemocratic? Think about it for a moment. More than half of the seats have already been decided without a single ballot being cast. If you happen to live in one of those 154 constituencies, you are out of luck – no vote for you! In short, over 48 million out of the roughly 92 million voters will not get to vote in the upcoming elections on January 5. This is unprecedented, even for Bangladesh. Even in the elections held by BNP in February 1996 and boycotted by all the other major parties, there were only 49 uncontested seats, and in the aborted January 2006 elections boycotted by the AL and its allies, there were only 18 seats uncontested. We have had our fair share of dodgy elections in Bangladesh, but the upcoming January 5 polls look like they will comfortably set a new standard for travesty. Even by Bangladeshi standards this is pretty breath-taking stuff. Forget about the fact that 44 million voters won’t have much of an effective choice. The other 48 million have no choice at all. We all agree that the February 1996 elections were a sham and that the aborted January 2006 elections would have been, had they gone ahead. So how can we take these elections seriously, when they are already so non-participatory and so self-evidently unrepresentative? How can the ruling party be serious about holding elections like this? It is no longer a question of whether an election without BNP can be considered acceptable. It is no longer a question of whether the elections should be held under a caretaker government or not. The question is how can elections, where more than half the voters are not even given the chance to vote, be considered in any way acceptable. Please understand this isn’t a brief in favour of the BNP. The bottom line is that the people of Bangladesh have been denied the chance to cast a vote. Not just in favour of the BNP, mind you, but for 48 percent of them, any vote at all. Now under the law of the land, if there is only one candidate, he or she is elected unopposed. But if the law supposes that, then, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, the law is an ass. It is transparently unjust to give people no choice in who their representative is. It is certainly undemocratic. But that’s not all, folks. There’s more. Not content with holding an election in which the main opposition is not only not participating, but in which most of its leaders are actually behind bars, we hit a new low with the recent comedy surrounding our octogenarian ex-dictator, HM Ershad. The spectacle was riveting. The AL had been setting great store by the participation in the election of his Jatiyo Party, so when he indicated that he was planning to drop out, clearly something had to be done. I am not sure which genius came up with the plan of arresting him and confining him until after the deadline to withdraw nominations had passed, but astonishingly, that is precisely what happened. And now he is being shipped off to Malaysia until after the elections so he can’t make more trouble. I have heard of people being forcibly withdrawn from elections against their wishes, but never before have I heard of someone forced to run for office. This is surely a first. The AL has succeeded in keeping the JP in the elections, technically. But I’m afraid that it hasn’t done anything much for the credibility of the process or for its own reputation. Then again, by now it is perfectly clear that the AL game-plan is to simply forge ahead with elections on January 5 without concern for whether the elections would be credible and representative or for how it makes them look to the electorate. The sheer effrontery is impressive, in its own way. The AL simply doesn’t care about what the people want or how it looks and they are no longer even pretending to care. I guess you have to admire the honesty, if nothing else. It makes you want to shake your head and smile. They can’t be serious, right? This is some kind of a joke, surely. But that’s the problem. This isn’t a joke. This is deadly serious. This is our life. And the joke is on us.  – See more at:


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