COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2018 – III

COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION 2018 – III
‘Alliance of the aggrieved’ warns of mass movement to extract demands

Shahid Islam     28 September 2018  The Weekly Holiday

The pages of history leaped forward with the pace and the momentum rarely seen since the formation of a grand alliance in 1954 to outbid electorally the Muslim League regime of the then Pakistan. Last week, the joining hands by the country’s largest opposition party, the BNP, with the previously coalesced motley alliance of few other smaller parties,came as a game changer to national politics.
The new alliance of these aggrieved opposition parties—who have been groaning, fuming and mourning for lack of space and freedom over the last 10 years to ventilate their agendas to the masses—poses a major challenge to the government on two fronts.

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Shahid Islam

The pages of history leaped forward with the pace and the momentum rarely seen since the formation of a grand alliance in 1954 to outbid electorally the Muslim League regime of the then Pakistan. Last week, the joining hands by the country’s largest opposition party, the BNP, with the previously coalesced motley alliance of few other smaller parties,came as a game changer to national politics.
The new alliance of these aggrieved opposition parties—who have been groaning, fuming and mourning for lack of space and freedom over the last 10 years to ventilate their agendas to the masses—poses a major challenge to the government on two fronts.

Demands and action promised
The first is the popularity of their demands, and the second is the threat of a mass movement to extract those demands. Notwithstanding that this new alliance of the leftists, pseudo Islamists, and the centre-right BNP can claim of a blubbery vote bank of over 60 per cent voters, or more, they also want their demands met by October 1, or face a mass movement to compel the regime to comply with their demands.
The demands include, inter alia, dissolution of the cabinet and the parliament before the election schedule is declared; formation of an interim caretaker regime to oversee the polling, barring representation by people willing to contest the polling reform of the Election Commission (EC); deployment of the army for 40 days, beginning with 10 days before the election day, and 30 more days onward; Scrapping of the decision to use Electoral Voting Machine (EVM); creation of level playing field for all participatory contestants by allowing unbiased behavior of the law enforcers and the media, etc.

Constitutional crisis
The post-15th amendment constitution doesn’t have any provision for the formation of the interim regime; hence the constitution doesn’t offer any solution to this main, thorny, demand. The incumbent regime, with its two-third majority in the existential parliament, can either re-amend the constitution, or sit with the newly formed joint alliance of the opposition to devise ways to bypass the constitutional dictates temporarily, through consensus, for greater national interest, and ratify such a decision post-fact; following the election’s conclusion, once the new parliament is convened.
The month of October is both venerated and odious. On November 6 and 7, 1917, which corresponded with October 24 and 25 in the Julian calendar, leftist revolutionaries led by the Bolshevik Party leader Vladimir Lenin launched a nearly bloodless coup d’état against the Duma’s provisional government in Russia. Known as the October revolution, the event shook the world and the revolution itself got emulated in many other countries.
The leftists of Bangladesh are barely capable of foisting such a feat, but the BNP’s joining of hands with them certainly reminds one of the 7th November 1975 revolution in Bangladesh, in which uniformed soldiers joined the leftists to neutralize the un-supportive putsch of Maj. Gen. Khaled Mosharrof under the leadership of Colonel Abu Taher and his political group, JatiyoSamajtantrik Dal (JSD). The BNP was born out of that revolution that brought Maj. Gen. Ziaur Rahman to the limelight as the army chief and a national leader. Until 2011, the day also got commemorated as the national revolution and solidarity day.

United National Front
As this grand opposition alliance draws more parties and persons, including civil society members and renowned intelligentsias, some leaders of this Gonoforum leader Dr. Kamal Hossain-led alliance have started touting it as a United National Front (UNF), provoking sharp rebuttal from the ruling AL that says, sans the AL, there is no united national front.
This logical argument of the AL may pave the ways for a fruitful dialogue in coming days between the opposition alliance and the regime in power to devise ways to holding a fair, participatory election that the January 2014 election eluded. A united forum of all parties can also facilitate the formation of a caretaker government, with or without a constitutional amendment, for which the constitution can make room after the election’s conclusion.

Caveats and the calamity feared
It seems unlikely that the incumbent regime will concede to such an idealistic blooming to facilitate a fair and inclusive election. Herein lay the caveat that forewarns of a mass movement occurring from early October, and the calamity likely to be ushered in by those intractable, incompatible, stances of both the camps. Should the situation go out of control, the government may resort using its plan B—which is the declaration of a state of emergency—to avoid a bloodbath and socio-economic disruptions to vital national interests.
Such a move will once again pull the national politics out of the constitutional orbit due to the lapse of the 90-day time limit during which election must be held, upon the expiration of the existing parliament’s tenure. The same thing happened in 2007 when election got deferred for two years under a military-led regime that had intervened amidst intense squabbling between then BNP- led regime and the opposition parties about the neutrality of a caretaker regime head, and that of the EC.

Suffocated time, Pakistan model
All of the aboverenders time suffocated; no one knowing how the government will respond to the oppositions’ demands, how the combined opposition will devise its game plan to compel the regime to comply with its demands, and, how the mass, as well as the military, will re-act to any unfolding of a bloody situation. That makes the crafting of a poll-time mechanism of governance—legally and politically— very urgent and indispensable.
Pakistan already had devised such a provision and, the recently held election there used the mechanism to facilitate a fair, participatory election that brought former cricketer Imran Khan and his party to power.

Unique constitution
The constitution of Pakistan mandates in part v111 that, upon the expiration of a parliament’s tenure, “(1) A general election to the National Assembly or a Provincial Assembly shall be held within a period of sixty days immediately following the day on which the term of the Assembly is due to expire, and, on dissolution of the Assembly, the President, or the Governor, as the case may be, shall appoint a care-taker Cabinet, and, the care-taker Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President in consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing National Assembly. If the Prime Minister or a Chief Minister and their respective Leader of the Opposition do not agree on any person to be appointed as a care-taker Prime Minister or the care-taker Chief Minister, as the case may be, the provisions of Article 224A shall be followed (mandating the president to choose someone as the caretaker head). And, (1B) Members of the care-taker Cabinets, including the care-taker Prime Minister and the care-taker Chief Minister and their immediate family members (spouse and children) shall not be eligible to contest the election.”
For years, the world followed Bangladesh’s caretaker model to hold elections. Now, the constitutional dictates of Pakistan are being followed by many countries under intractable situation arising out of controversy relating to election fairness and neutrality of the poll-time regime. That’s a bit insulting to us, or is it?

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