The BNP’s commitment to liberal democracy is admirable particularly because it has not lost its commitment even when it has lost all major elections at the national and local levels under the incumbent Election Commission, writes M Serajul Islam
A NEWS item that appeared in the local daily newspapers recently on the forthcoming city corporation elections was thought-provoking. The chief election commissioner told reporters after meeting a delegation of the ruling Awami League that the members of parliament cannot either act as coordinators for local government polls or campaign in or manage such elections. A heavyweight AL leader who is also a member of parliament who had participated in the meeting with the chief election commissioner told reporters after the meeting to the contrary that the members of parliament can do anything in local government elections except seeking votes for the candidates.
The two sides were clearly at opposites on the face of the arguments. The voters of Dhaka who have thus far shown little interest in the coming polls but have watched this exchange are now waiting for the Election Commission to give in and expose the exchange as a sham for that was what it was to most citizens of Dhaka who followed it. They failed to understand why the Election Commission and the ruling party were making a public show that they were at odds with each other when it was no longer a secret that they were both on the same team as far as elections were concerned.
The chief election commissioner and his commission have left indelible evidence of their willingness and eagerness to be a part of the ruling party by the way they conducted elections since assuming office in 2016 and, in particular, the way they worked for the ruling party for the 11th national assembly elections held a year ago on December 30, 2018. The facts of that election have been very well documented in a digital manner. Under their watch, the right of the people to vote was systematically taken away to ensure the ruling party’s effortless victory. The chief election commissioner-Election Commission did not even show common sense in the way they acted on the ruling party’s behalf in the last national elections.
If they had, they would not have embarrassed themselves, the ruling party and the country with the margin with which they allowed the ruling party and its allies to win. The ruling party and its allies won 293 of the 300 seats, a result that normally emerged out of an election conducted under military dictatorship. The Election Commission failed to consider that in many polling stations, there was a mismatch between the number of voters and votes cast. It is now widely known with documentary proof that forces took control of the election process the previous night and filled the ballot boxes with votes for the ruling party candidates while the Election Commission had remained silent.
There was, therefore, no confusion among the citizens of Dhaka about the diametrically opposite views that the chief election commissioner and the ruling party delegation took in their recent meeting about the participation of the members of parliament in the Dhaka city corporation elections. They knew it was a sham exercise and that in the end, the Election Commission would not just fall in line behind the ruling party, but do everything that the ruling party would want. There is not even a child in the city that believes that the results of the forthcoming city corporation elections would be anything other than match, set and game for the two ruling party candidates for the positions of mayors of Dhaka’s north and south. The Election Commission must now be busy figuring out the number of votes they would apportion to the winners and the losers going by the way they had conducted past elections.
That should bring to the discussion about why the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies decided to take part in the forthcoming Dhaka city corporation elections. Do they not know what the people of Dhaka know already that the winners have already been decided by the Election Commission? The BNP’s secretary general said that it was his party’s commitment to liberal democracy that had been the motivating factor for the decision. He said the same during the last national elections. His assertion on liberal democracy is interesting. It suits the Election Commission’s strategy entirely because while the Bangladesh Nationalist Party harps on liberal democracy without any fallback strategy, the Election Commission can nonchalantly ensure victories effortlessly for the ruling party candidates.
The BNP’s commitment to liberal democracy is admirable particularly because it has not lost its commitment even when it has lost all major elections at the national and local levels under the incumbent Election Commission. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party, while committing itself so wholeheartedly to liberal democracy, has, however, failed to realise that it takes two to tango and play liberal democracy in national politics. The party’s commitment to liberal democracy with the ruling party being unwilling to tango and without a fallback strategy has, in fact, weakened it as an opposition political party and rendered it impotent to fight for the rights of the people.
The BNP’s commitment to liberal democracy has demoralised its grass roots and millions across the country who want democracy in the spirit of 1971 for which an active opposition is indispensable. Many at the grass roots are seriously questioning the BNP’s misplaced confidence in liberal democracy. Many believe that the party is taking shelter under liberal democracy for its timidity. Many others believe that something even worse maybe motivating the BNP to take shelter under liberal democracy.
Dhaka city corporation elections have, thus, very little to offer in terms of hope and expectations that voters have in democratic elections. The winners of the two mayoral positions and the important ones among the 129 councillors (54 in Dhaka’s north and 75 in the south) have no doubt been decided by the Election Commission already. Four ward councillors have already been elected uncontested and all went to the ruling party. Perhaps, the Election Commission with the green signal of the ruling party may allow a few non-ruling party candidates to get elected as ward councillors to fool the citizens of Dhaka.
Dhaka city is not one to make its residents proud. It has in the past few years figured consistently near the top as one of the most unliveable cities in the world. In an era when the environment is a primary concern of everyone around the world, Dhaka’s air quality is one of the worst in comparison to other cities in the world. The traffic congestion in the city and road accidents add to making the city one where its residents live because they perhaps have no other alternative. It would, therefore, only suit Dhaka’s ill-gotten reputation when the world finds that come January 30, Dhaka will have mayoral elections where the winners will have been known before the elections are held.
The greater Dhaka city has a population of 18 million who have a proud history of standing up against those who had made attempts in the past to take away their rights. In 1971, they had refused to surrender in the face of inhuman atrocities of the Pakistan army. It is, therefore, a pity that the people of the same city are now watching meekly without the courage to do anything as the Election Commission gets ready to take away their vote once again the same way it had during the December 30, 2019 elections.
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.
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