Ershad’s sudden U-turn from joining the “all-party” interim cabinet to deciding against contesting the polls at all has not only poured cold water on the Awami League’s efforts to stage a minimally credible election, but also acted in favour of main opposition BNP’s stance.
Since the Constitution was amended for the 15th time in 2011, when the caretaker government system was annulled, BNP has continued to assert that credible elections would not be possible under any partisan arrangement.
The main opposition party has never heeded the AL’s calls for participating in the “all-party” polls-time administration, nor has it ever given any positive hint about contesting polls under any partisan government.
Failing to move BNP from its stance, the AL resorted to wooing Ershad’s Jatiya Party for giving the polls – slated for January 5 – minimum credibility.
The fact that some of the JP leaders, including Ershad himself and his brother and former minister GM Quader, have been elected uncontested despite applying for a withdrawal of nominations has added insult to injury for the AL, who has been trying desperately to stage a credible election.
The government was trying hard to keep JP in the electoral race to create the illusion of an inclusive poll, but everyone has been observing what is going on centring the party.
Is it not a disgrace for a party like the AL that enjoys huge support, a glorious history and led the liberation war of the country, that it has been doing these things? Moreover, the drama surrounding Ershad’s “arrest” has made things even more complicated for them.
Six ministerial positions and an adviser’s position in the polls-time interim cabinet were given to JP to woo them. And now, the AL has decided to leave at least 59 seats to the party.
In 1986, the AL participated in a “controversial” election under Ershad, ultimately giving necessary legitimacy to the polls. In 1996, JP extended its support to the AL to form the government.
The opposition BNP became confident after the landslide victory in the five city corporation polls, where the BNP-backed candidates won the mayoral posts. The BNP leaders repeatedly alleged that the government wanted to keep BNP out of the polls, fearing a huge debacle in the next polls as they became isolated from the people.
The AL leaders repeatedly said, as there was no scope of holding any election under a non-partisan government, that the political parties, including BNP, had to participate in elections under a polls-time government headed by an elected person.
Even when the polls-time government was formed, the ruling party called on the BNP repeatedly to join the polls-time cabinet. But the BNP rejected the calls, saying that free, fair and credible polls were not possible under any partisan person.
As there is a constitutional compulsion to hold the election by January 24, 2014, the government has taken all sorts of preparations to hold elections, and Ershad’s double somersault questioned the election’s credibility as 154 seats were already elected uncontested.
Defending such a huge number of uncontested seats, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the AL has reached a compromise with the parties of the polls-time government and that is why they have withdrawn their candidatures from some seats after a liaison.
If she compromises with BNP over the polls-time government, would it not be healthy for a sustainable democracy and a growing economy? Would she not be appreciated by the populace and be setting an example before the nation?
But the reality is that since this country’s independence, especially after the quasi-military rule, one lopsided election was held on February 15, 1996, which was a stigma for BNP and for which they had to pay.
The AL did not have such a “brilliant record” of holding one-sided elections. But this time they broke BNP’s record, not only by holding unilateral polls but also by the huge number of uncontested seats.
The personal vendetta among the two top leaders is so intense that they are chasing one another and are actually making each other look good.