Vote: Are we asking for too much?
Hardly anyone claims the patent of a still unaddressed sense of uncertainty in today’s Bangladesh – ‘Will the coming elections be free and fair?’
This is a disturbing but the most common question being murmured, on city footpaths, shopping centres, clubs, offices, corporate houses, small towns, and sprawling villages, wherever and whenever 2-3 or a maximum of, say, 10 ‘friends’ meet.
Living with fear, the political actors outside the realm of power have expressed this apprehension many times. The announcement of the polls schedule has so far failed to change the atmosphere.
The ones who should have been ashamed of the public concern rather look happy that they’ve managed to create a situation where everybody other than themselves is helpless.
The authorities, as responsible for every affair of the state, can but have no scope to fool the people of Bangladesh as to why a fair vote is uncertain. There are even talks of whether any election at all would be held on 30 December 2018, let alone an undistorted outcome based on collective verdict of around 100 million individuals.
When, records of recent polls suggest, you don’t intend to allow the voters to elect their representatives, isn’t it a stand against the people?
I can’t comprehend what the fault of the Bangladesh people is when they want to exercise their voting rights and choose their future.
They are the people who fought for independence and democracy only in recent decades. Now, they are being told in one way or the other, there is no alternative to the current leadership, a leadership which is actually determined and recognised by none but the people in an electoral system of governance.
These Bangladesh people are being rather discouraged to turn up to the polling stations, as done during the recent city corporation elections, lest they vote for the rivals of the powerful ones. Why fear, they may vote for you as well, but you don’t just find any guarantee of their support for you.
As confidence in the electorates is missing, the people may be left with only two options – Elect an already chosen candidate or you don’t need to go to vote. We would appreciate if the apprehensions are not the reality.
The people are shown that the potential opposition candidates, campaigners and polling agents are being attacked by means of what are called fictitious cases and arrests so that they cannot dare to offer themselves as viable alternatives to the incumbents.
Thus, the regime is giving a clear message to the officials and employees as well as the silent majority: A status quo will remain the order.
The people may suspect, you’ve made a master plan to cling on to power by manipulating the rules of the game – the general elections.
Otherwise, there is no reason why the state institutions would be used to make the opposition leaders and activists continue to run for shelter.
The BNP complained that the prime minister’s office briefed civil servants about election duties. The police personnel reportedly made inquiries about poling officers, creating controversies about political bias.
The ruling camp leaders are extremely concerned about who would replace them, in case a fair election is held. Therefore, they can’t make the mistake like the one made by General Augusto Pinochet of Chile by being defeated in a plebiscite in the late 1980s!
In a kind of unspoken conversation, are the rulers trying to tell the people ‘you don’t deserve the right to choose leaders’, the way Winston Churchill declined to grant independence to the subcontinent during the mid-1940s, raising question about the capacity of people of this part of the world to rule themselves?
If you take the ‘responsibility of the people’ that they don’t offer you voluntarily, this would indicate you don’t belong to them – you are ‘over-developed’ than the masses. In that case, the regime will be accountable to the groups and forces that help it survive, quelling public wrath every now and then.
The sycophants who craft a variety of arguments against free and fair elections fail to notice they are increasingly proving themselves to be anti-people.
A public servant who has been posted at the election commission seems to be a model of anti-people element, as he advised polls observers to stand like statues even if they see irregularities on the voting day.
So, this election may not be ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’ but of course about the people – either you attempt to stop them or may be compelled to allow them to vote.
Those who want to thwart the people’s participation in the election have already recorded certain success, implicitly though, for the establishment that is not bothered about public interest.
The actions and steps that are aimed at stopping fair polls as well as the political apprehensions expressed about fair play have all pushed back to nowhere any discussion on agenda for development and democratic reforms.
With other popular demands and expectations shelved, only a fair election is what can at least lead the people towards the next social dialogue for national reconciliation, restoring institutions, quality education, better service delivery and reigniting the Bangladesh dream.
* Khawaza Main Uddin is a journalist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org