Elections, development and democracy

The flurry within the ruling party camp give the impression that there’s hardly a month left for the election, yet the leaders maintain they won’t step down even a minute before the end of the government’s term. The elections will be held on schedule, not a minute before. That would mean there’s about a year and a half before the polls.

The ‘deputy ruling party’, Jatiya Party, is all the more active in its preparations. They have even formed a 58-party alliance with a vision of coming to power. If this alliance wins the election, and if 25 persons are selected from the main party with three or four from each of the allies, then the cabinet will consist of around 250 or more! Then there will of course be at least 25 advisors of the minister rank.

There are around two and a half left-leaning parties in the government camp. They are the ruling party’s C-team. They are happy with whatever the elected government dishes out to them. If they are made to contest and win in the election, there is nothing like it. And even if they lose, but are given posts of technocrat ministers, who’s complaining? It’s all about being a minister, the end is important, not the means.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has very bluntly said that the party’s aspiring candidates will not be able to come to power as they did in 2014. There will actually be a contest. They will have to win the people’s vote, not be elected uncontested. Her words have been a source of consternation to many. It’s not going to be easy sailing this time round.

BNP is busy with its Vision 2030, though the people are more concerned over the basic survival of democracy. After all, many of them realise they are not going to be around in 2030 or 2041, so it hardly makes a difference whether Bangladesh is burgeoning with wealth by then, or is a permanent member of the UN or is the number one superpower in the world. They want to see where Bangladesh stands tomorrow, next month, next year.

The people want a free and fair election, sending up the party with the majority mandate to form the government. The general election is a vital aspect of parliamentary democracy. The elected party does not just take responsibility for the nation for a term. It can at times turn around the entire future of a nation.

The 1946 election brought about revolutionary changes to the life of the Bengalis. But they could not cash in on this due to weak leadership and lack of respect for democracy. Then there was the 1954 election which was a turning point. This was a lesson in Bengali nationalism which eventually led to the 1971 liberation war. East Pakistan became Bangladesh. Just as the1954 election was pivotal to this change so was the election of 1970.

The 1973 election in independent Bangladesh ought to have been a milestone. It was not, and the backlash is being felt down till today and will probably still be felt in 2073. By aiming to remove the opposition from the scene, not only did that election diminish democracy, it also paved the way for undemocratic forces. It was a negation of the 1971 independence war’s commitment to democracy.

A popular leader was in power, he had the people’s trust. In those circumstances if the opposition was given 35 or 40 seats in parliament, it wouldn’t have created the slightest dent in the government. Not long before he died, veteran parliamentarian Suranjit Sengupta grasped my hands and said, “The disaster was done in 1973 and we will continue paying the price.” He was indeed paying the price, having uttered these words to me in private. It was not possible for him to speak thus in parliament.

Chief minister Nurul Amin and his party were defeated in no uncertain terms in the 1954 election, but analysts lauded his role. He had not influenced the administration an iota. Had he wielded his influence, his party Muslim League would surely have won a considerably higher number of seats.

Ironically, the ill-reputed General Yahya Khan was also praised for a credible election in 1971. It was when he and his associates did not accept the results of the election that the people took their fate into their own hands and waged the war of independence.

After independence, the 1972 constitution of Bangladesh could have been the very best manifesto for any political party in any election. New commitments could just be added in keeping with the times. It is not important at the moment if we have a bicameral or tri-cameral parliament. It is not even pressing to decide whether to increase or curb the prime minister’s powers. These issues will hardly change the fate of the people.

In monarchies, the son of the king inherits the throne. In a democracy, the one who wins the people’s confidence is made the leader. Democratic systems introduce new leadership. Does that mean old leadership becomes null and void? No. They don the mantle of respected guardians of the new leadership. In a democracy, there is a harmony of the old and new.

Bangladesh’s downfall of democracy is because the door has been shut on new leadership. Rather than dates and visions, the two major political parties could instill hope in the public mind if they simply each declared the names of five new future leaders of the party. Those 10 would compete with each other as to who could do best for the nation. The people would be ready to listen to their visions.

Since there are murmurs of an election, an election will be held. But democratic politics and Bangladesh’s elections are not one and the same. To a section of politicians, an election is a business proposition. This has no connection whatsoever to the hopes and aspirations of the people.

The election system that has evolved in our country is not consistent with democratic politics. It is all about the money, nothing about the politics.

However, this is a reality in which we are trapped. So we appeal to whoever is elected, regardless of the manner in which he or she is elected, to uphold the constitution. This entails protecting the sovereignty of the state and ensuring the fundamental rights of the people. Development in the form of bricks, steels and cement is one thing. That is not democracy.

We hope that the coming election is an election for the establishment of democracy.

Source: Prothom-Alo

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