The prime minister, while speaking with pressmen on Eid day, again urged the BNP to attend parliament sessions and raise their demands about the type of government they want during election. It remains unintelligible to the general public why BNP continues to abstain from parliament sessions despite repeated calls from the ruling party. Even if their demands are not met, it does not forfeit their right to launch movement and agitation on the streets.
Apprehension and despair loom as people ponder over the difficulties in the days to come because of the crippled state of business and of the non-functioning industrial sector, apart from the loss of lives in the fierce battles on the streets. On the other hand, people running the state seem to be sailing a boat that they think won’t capsize. They look quite calm in the face of dark clouds hovering on the horizon.
Pragmatic leadership could possibly put the country on the right track and pave the way for political and economic stability that we so direly need at this critical juncture. The stakes are too high to leave the contentious issues unresolved. None in the country would be immune to the pain in the event of an all-out conflict. What people apprehend is that party feuding could wreak havoc far beyond party interests. With crisis gripping the country, there is reluctance to invest in new projects. Investment is the lifeblood that keeps an economy moving, and it has remained ominously static during the last several years.
Contrary to peoples’ expectation, Al-led rule during the last four years and nine months has hardly healed the festering malaise and politics of aggrandisement. After the ‘oust the government’ movement failed, BNP and its allies are once again braced for another power struggle on conducting the next national election through installation of a neutral caretaker government, which Al has annulled by enacting an amendment in the constitution.
UN secretary general as well as foreign diplomats stationed in Dhaka have urged both the main political parties to sit for a dialogue in a bid to arrive at a consensus in holding the next parliamentary election, but this has not been heeded to by the parties till now. Reports have been rife that international observers may refrain from monitoring the polls unless the election is participated by all the parties.
The need for a dialogue between the two main political parties with regard to holding the upcoming national election by a process acceptable to both the parties as well as restructuring of the Election Commission (EC), if necessary, has assumed greater significance. This is because the people do not want to see a rigged, flawed or poorly conducted election any more.
In view of the bitter memories of the past, people feel that in absence of tough, dynamic, and neutral chiefs in both the ‘election time government’ and the EC, election may be flawed and that such election will not resolve the contentious issues but only add to the misery and sufferings of the people.
To restore confidence of the feuding parties and voters, some measures need to be taken by the EC. Every polling centre must maintain a voter list with photograph of the voters. Voters must present their national ID card to the polling officer. The polling officer, when satisfied with the identity of the voter, will hand over the ballot paper to the voter. After vote counting in presence of the polling agents of the parties and candidates, declaration of the result must be made in presence of the candidates or their agents, with copies immediately forwarded to the EC headquarters and the media.
What is most needed and expected is that election officials must work with sincerity, dedication and without malice or fear or favour to any particular party or candidate. Yet, some officials entrusted with this duty may work with partisan spirit, as happened in some districts in the last parliamentary election and borne out by the statement of the then Election Commissioner Brig. Gen. (Retd) Shakhawat Hossain. People apprehend that they will have to weather a big storm this time to reach the polling booth after going through a roller-coaster drive.
We can learn a lot from the last American election. McCain, after being sure that he was going to lose, addressed his supporters saying: “My friends, we have come to the end of the journey. The American people have spoken, and they have spoken clearly. A little while ago I had the honour of calling Senator Obama to congratulate him.” McCain’s spirit might inspire our political leaders in building a country shorn of violence and hatred.
The stalwarts of the past governments, with their seeming arrogance and aloofness from the masses, pushed the country to the brink of disaster. We need new leadership in this critical period of our history. The leader we are looking for must try and win political allies, seek consensus and avoid vendetta. There has to be a change in the style of governance. Sensible citizens have stressed the need for a credible election and a government that could spur development and progress, eradicate corruption and root out the seeds of extremist ideas and militancy.
Today, Bangladesh is steeped in political uncertainties begging for resolution, not the kind the incumbent government wants to achieve but the kind the people want, which can only be attained through free and fair election. If the incumbent government thinks it proper to garner votes by installing an election time government of its choice, then it is plainly mistaken. Every incumbent government tries to use state machinery to its advantage, but no government has been able to change the course of a tide.
Before this situation degenerates into a vicious game of violence, good sense must prevail. In a democratic atmosphere, political leaders, most often treated as repositories of trust and hope, must have the backbone, stamina and courage to hear the harsh truth and to endure the blow, if it comes from their wrongdoing. With allegations of corruption, patronage and governance failure rife, the image of the party in power today is remote from the idea and pledges it held out to the country.
Hope for early reconciliation of the festering problems and feuds seems to be dying. But people’s expectation runs high, urging the leaders in the ruling party to shoulder the responsibilities and unify the country in the face of militant activities and the sinister conspiracies of the anti-liberation forces. That needs leaders imbued with pragmatism, statesmanship and vision. If the rot does not stop immediately, the ghouls and ghosts of the country’s troubled past will have won the day. So leadership must act, and act right now and in the right direction.
The writer is a columnist of The Daily Star.
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