Democracy means a system of government in which all the people of a country can vote to elect their representatives. And of course a general election offers people the sweeping right to choose their representatives who will govern the country on their behalf.
But the general election slated for January 5 fails to offer people this right, one of the very fundamental principles of democracy. There are some reasons behind it. Take the reasons one by one.
As many as 33 candidates nominated by the ruling Awami League in as many constituencies are going to be elected uncontested as none is there to challenge them since the BNP-led opposition has alliance boycotted the race. The number may rise to 100 after the withdrawal of Jatiya Party-nominated candidates from the electoral race.
If that happens, this will mean that one third of the parliamentary constituencies will have representatives elected uncontested and one-third of the nine crore voters of the country will have no scope to exercise their franchise. They will have no say in the election.
If the number of unopposed MPs-elect rises to 100, this will exceed the record created at the farcical February 15 election in 1996. As many as 49 candidates nominated by then ruling BNP were elected uncontested in that election, held amid a boycott by the AL, Jatiya Party, Jamaat-e-Islami and other parties.
In another farcical election held in 1988 amid a boycott by most opposition parties, 18 candidates nominated by the then ruling Jatiya Party, led by General Ershad, were elected uncontested.
And 22 candidates nominated by the BNP-led four party alliance were elected unopposed in the eventually cancelled January 22 polls in 2007.
Eleven candidates nominated by the then AL were elected uncontested in the country’s first parliamentary election held in March 1973.
None was elected uncontested in the participatory and competitive elections held in 1986, 1991, 1996 [June 12], 2001 and 2008.
The other interesting side to the ensuing parliamentary polls slated for January 5 relates to the contesting parties. After the withdrawal of the Jatiya Party from the electoral race, there will be no party in the race that will be able to challenge the AL in any of the constituencies. None of their candidates will be able to win in any constituency without the support of the ruling AL.
After the withdrawal of the Ershad-led Jatiya Party, the Anwar Hossain Manju-led Jatiya Party will emerge as the second largest political party with 46 candidates. Its chief Manju is now an adviser to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina with the status of a minister. What is the strength of his party, born before the 2001 parliamentary polls after breaking away from the Ershad-led JP?
In the parliamentary polls in 2001, it fielded 140 candidates and bagged 2.43 lakh votes with no seat. In the last parliamentary polls held on December 29, 2008, it fielded 7 candidates and bagged only 7,818 votes. The question of its winning any constituency simply does not arise.
The Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal will appear as the third largest party with 41 valid candidates. Its chief Hasanul Haq Inu and two other party leaders were elected MPs at the 2008 polls on AL support. Inu is now a minister in the election-time government led by Sheikh Hasina.
At the 2001 polls, none of the JSD’s 76 candidates was able to win. They together, however, bagged 1.19 lakh votes.
This time too, the JSD is contesting the polls slated for January 5 as an alliance partner of the ruling AL. The AL may support five or six JSD candidates to help them win the elections.
The polls scheduled for January 5 will in no way be a participatory one in terms of the number of contesting parties and candidates. Only 20 out of 41 registered political parties have nominated their candidates. The number has already declined to 19 as the lone candidacy filed by the Muslim League was found invalid by the returning officer.
The number may decline further with the Jatiya Party making known its decision to quit the race. Two or three Islamic parties have claimed they did not nominate candidates for the polls, but somebody filed applications seeking candidacies by using their names. Even the name of the Bangladesh Jatiya Party, a component of the BNP-led alliance, has appeared in the list of 20 parties.
At this point, there are 728 candidates for the January 5 polls.
Finally, the number of parties and contesting candidates may be record lowest in the two decades since the restoration of democracy in 1990 after the fall of the autocratic Ershad regime.
As many as 2363 candidates and 75 political parties took part in the 1991 polls held after Ershad’s fall. In the controversial February 15 polls in 1996, 1987 candidates and 41 political parties took part.
In the same year, that is 1996, the seventh parliamentary polls were held in June with the participation of 2293 candidates and 81 political parties.
The eighth parliamentary polls held in October 2001 were also participatory with 2563 candidates and 54 political parties taking part.
Following the imposition of some restrictions on political parties and individuals regarding their contesting the parliamentary polls, the number decreased in the 2008 polls. Yet 38 out of 39 registered political parties and 1567 candidates contested the election, which remains on record as one of the best electoral exercises in Bangladesh’s history.
Considering all the above facts the claim that the general election slated for January 5 will be a participatory one and will provide people with the right to choose their representatives by exercising their franchise will definitely have credibility problem.
The wisdom of holding such an election is highly questionable and whether a credible representative government will emerge from it is doubtful.
Source: The Daily Star