THIS is, indeed, a welcome assurance from the prime minister and Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina that her government would establish the political rights of all citizens. The assurance, issued while she made a public speech on Saturday, after all, points to the fact that ‘all the citizens’ of Bangladesh do not enjoy the political rights these days. The stark reality is that the citizens having political allegiance to the ruling Awami League enjoy all the political rights, even more than what they are democratically entitled to, while those having allegiance to opposition political camps, or even those having no political allegiance to either of the camps crudely fighting for power, have not enjoyed unhindered many a constitutionally guaranteed right, such as the right to assembly, right to protest and right to the freedom of expression, for quite some years. And this is an open secret that the rights of the political and intellectual dissidents have been suppressed by legal and extralegal means adopted by the law enforcement agencies and the unruly members of the ruling party. Under such circumstance, if the government really wishes, this would not be a difficult job for it to guarantee the citizens their due democratic rights; the only thing they would require to do is to ask the law enforcement agencies and unruly activists of the ruling party to stop harassing the political opponents. Would the incumbents really do the job? We keep our fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, the prime minister would have done a better job if she had not appreciated the people at large for what she said voting her party to the parliament, for the people did not do so or, to be precise, most people did not get the opportunity to freely vote for any party in the December 30 general elections. This is common knowledge in Bangladesh, no matter how many foreign governments have so for congratulated her party on ‘wining the elections’, that many ballot papers were staffed in favour of the incumbents in many constituencies at night before the polling, polling agents of the opposition candidates were not allowed inside most polling centres and ordinary voters were prevented from entering most polling stations — not to mention that the opposition candidates were hardly allowed to campaign and hundreds of opposition activists were arrested before the elections. It was, in fact, the politically compliant law enforcement agencies under the guidance of the ruling party leaders and activists that managed the brutal win for the Awami League and its coalition partners while most voters across the country, including many ordinary League supporters, were intimidated into remaining mere onlookers. Many well-meaning civil society organisations and prestigious media outlets at home and abroad have already criticised the elections severely. Under such circumstance, publicly welcoming people for re-electing the incumbents amounts to nothing but rubbing salt to people’s injuries. Not a good idea. It is better that the government really guarantees democratic rights to all the citizens committed to democratic ideals.
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