Boycotting parliament is not the answer

The Daily Star January 06, 2019

Boycotting parliament is not the answer

Despite all the shenanigans that had been resorted to, to winthe election, we will have a new parliament for another five years. It seems as if Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes” was written exactly keeping this particular situation in mind. Anybody, the courtiers in particular, who does not want to see the reality only marvels at the finesse of the emperor’s dress, and expresses as much (fooled not so much by the two weavers as by their reluctance to displease the emperor). Only the child in the crowd can see the emperor in the state that he is actually in: naked. And that is also the case with our mainstream media and some genuflecting intellectuals and their views of the election. Only a few “children” have seen and uttered the truth.

One can neither wish the new parliament away nor hope for a new election before 2023. Therefore, the nation’s eyes will be on the parliament, at least those that have not altogether lost interest in politics and are not willing to leave everything to fate to play its part.

The country’s legislative future is in the hands of the new parliament. One is waiting to see what kind of legislation is enacted. Whether they are motivated by the urge to achieve good governance and the greater good for the greater majority, or whether life would be tougher for the public with telescoped space for criticism and dissent and, generally, the freedom of expression. One is waiting also to see the role of the opposition, the JP(E), in the next five years.

Is another rubber-stamp parliament our lot for the next five years? One is not quite sure what the parliament would look like eventually. The current one—it has not been dissolved as yet, although the newly elected members have already taken oath contrary to the rules and norms—is unique. There was an “opposition” in the form of Ershad’s Jatiya Party, after it was made to participate in the 2014 elections. This time, after the usual flip-flopping, Ershad has decided—for the time being I say, because there is no guarantee what he will do tomorrow—to sit in the opposition. One hopes that his wisdom emerges from a desire to play the part of the opposition as it should be. Some may consider Ershad’s decision, dismissing his brother’s desire to be a part of the government, merely a means to wipe out the label of a domesticated opposition that was affixed on his party’s forehead over the last five years. For a politician with a modicum of integrity, it could not have been very relishing to be the leader of a party that claims to be the main opposition yet enjoys the perks of a Special Envoy to the PM. One sincerely hopes that he would prove his critics wrong. But that may be a tall order for Ershad, given his past record of susceptibility to persuasion.

Ershad’s party being in the opposition would be another first; after having participated under a major party-led grand alliance to being on the other side of the aisle is perhaps unheard of in the annals of parliamentary democracy. But that is what is likely to happen, provided Ershad doesn’t have a brainwave overnight and changes his mind. Therefore, it is not quite clear whether we will have another five years of a very friendly “other side” in the House, pliant and conforming to the ruling party’s wishes, or whether he feels obligated to his voters and plays his due part as the opposition.

And nobody better than the BNP can say how dearly they have paid for it. The party was cast in the role of a political nonentity. They were divested of all relevance to any political discourse. It was so busy with its effort to redeem its position and that of its leader that it failed to exploit various issues thrown up by government policies by exposing the follies of the policies to the public and creating public opinion against them.

Little worthwhile discussions on important matters, if at all, took place on the floor of the House, because there was no opposition in the real sense in the parliament. Every time the so-called leader of the so-called opposition got up to speak, she could offer nothing more than hearty endorsement of the government policies.

Boycotting the parliament this time by the five BNP members would be a gross folly and help further consign the BNP to permanent wilderness. At least the five BNP MPs can voice their points of view, or attempt to make their voice heard. They may well be snubbed by the Speaker, but so be it. Even one voice is enough if it is rational and just. If they are prepared and willing, no matter the impediments they might encounter—and they are likely to encounter a lot—they should be able to keep the governing party on their toes. One would like to see more critical discussions on the budget for example, and the BNP parliamentarians can do so if they are prepared to. These five MPs can hold the government to account for its various actions. At least, one hopes, even with a miniscule opposition, issues like extrajudicial killings or policies such as those adopted in the anti-drugs drive, where alleged drug dealers were summarily dealt with, can be brought up for discussion. Just imagine, with a real opposition in the House, would the ruthless manner of suppression of the students’ genuine demands, by employing the ruling party ancillary organisations, not have come up for discussion?

The only option for the BNP is to instruct its MPs-elect to join the parliament. Doing so will accord the party more relevance than it has now. And this may be the scope for the BNP leadership to resuscitate the party. Personal ego of some leaders must not stand in the way of political pragmatism.


Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan, ndc, psc (retd) is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

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