TWO major political parties of Bangladesh’s ruling class, the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, one desperate to retain power and the other desperate to return to power, appear to have still been poles apart as regards the nature and composition of the election-time government, which is really dangerous for the immediate future of the country. The ruling Awami League, which created the problem by unilaterally scrapping a constitutional provision for holding national elections under a non-party administration — the provision that was made bilaterally and, that too, on the League’s insistence — has already announced that it would form a small government of its own in October to hold general elections due in December. The BNP was quick to respond, saying that no alternative to a party-neutral government is acceptable to it for the elections to be held under. The political impasse, therefore, remains.
That the League’s governing coalition is afraid of losing a genuinely competitive election, no matter what it rhetorically claims in public, is evident in its persistent refusal to go back to the system of holding polls under a non-party civilian government, on the one hand, and carefully crafted appointments and postings of the officials in different coercive apparatus of the state having capacity to influence the elections results, on the other. The phenomenon only inspires the League’s power contender, the BNP in the present case, to stick to its demand for a party-neutral government to hold the polls. True that the BNP unsuccessfully fought for restoring the provision last time in 2014 while the failure to achieve its goal and subsequent boycott of the elections kept the party out in the cold for the past five years. However, the BNP’s boycott of the national polls and consequent election of as many as 154 League candidates uncontested as well as election of the rest of the candidates by no more than some 10 per cent of the voters have deprived the Awami League of political legitimacy, at home or abroad, to run government for the past five years. Under the circumstances arise two important questions as to whether the Awami League can afford to have a politically illegitimate government for the next five years, on the one hand, and the BNP can afford to keep outside the electoral process for another five years. We have reasons to believe none of the rival political camps can afford such a possible future and this is, , therefore, high time that they started negotiation, overt or covert, to reach a consensus on the nature and composition of the election-time government.
While the questions above remains an issue of power struggle of the two ruling-class parties, the most important question remains as to whether the people of Bangladesh would continue to be deprived of their right to franchise and the right to choose their representative in free and fair elections. That the League administration is not interested in paving the way for the voters annoyed with the party’s autocratic governance and repressive behaviours is almost certain, for the incumbents have hardly allowed their political opponents and party-neutral citizens to freely vote even in the local goernment elections the results of which do not change guards at the centre. It is, therefore, high time that the citizens’ groups come forward to assert their right to vote in accordance with their free choice in a peaceful atmosphere.
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