Political parties are supposed to be extremely sensitive to every turn and twist in public opinion. They are expected to keep a close watch on every expression of it in every public forum, both big and small. Most importantly, they are supposed to take every opinion poll for what it is, opinion poll, and not castigate those as work of the ‘enemies.’
But, like so much else in our politics, reactions to opinion polls by our political parties are quite different from rest of the world. If the results are in favour, their reaction is positive and one of immediate acceptance. But if opposite is the case, all hell breaks loose. The findings are termed as concocted and the body that did the survey is condemned as a conspirator in league with the opposition.
Thus, when the Bangla daily Prothom Alo conducted an opinion poll some weeks back, showing that by far the greater majority of people support the idea of caretaker government (CTG) to conduct the next general election, the ruling Awami League and all its supporters launched a massive attack on the paper. There was no attempt to verify the authenticity of the survey. As events later proved, and continue to, Prothom Alo’s findings were correct, and that CTG is the preferred form of government during elections.
Ignoring opinion polls is one thing, but to ignore election results can only be termed as suicidal. Regrettably, that is what we are seeing in the reaction of the Awami League after its massive defeat in the mayoral elections. After losing all five of them at a stretch, one would have thought that this once great party, with such a glorious history and huge support base, would have immediately launched a multilevel exercise in self-analysis as to why they lost.
There appears to be no attempt by the ruling party to investigate why this debacle occurred. A natural follow up after Gazipur defeat would have been a serious wake up call for the AL, leading to immediate formation of a high level party committee to make a detailed study on where the party went wrong — was it in the choice of the candidate, was it in electioneering techniques, or in mishandling by party elders, etc.
Nothing of the sort occurred. Instead, the PM, who is also the party chief, started openly criticising the public saying something like, “what can I do if they do not support us in spite of all the good work we did.” She even implied that people seem to prefer the corrupt instead of the honest. She said after Ramazan: “We will cut electric power and remind people how bad things were before. Then they will appreciate us.”
The implication here is that it is the people who are at fault, not the party, and that voters are fools and that they don’t understand what is good for them. Voters also cannot distinguish the good leaders from the bad. So foolish are the people that they even deserve to be punished — hence the threat of cutting of electric power and reminding them of all the good works done by the present leadership.
So convinced are our rulers of the stupidity of our voters that the corrective measures they thought of adopting was not of ‘introspection’ but of better ‘communication.’
The fault was identified as failure of communication and not one of performance. There was no need to correct their ways, but only to tell the people what great things they have done. Thus was sown the seed of the ‘great’ billboard hijack. The net result was, whatever truth there was in the hundreds of messages contained in the thousands of ‘hijacked’ billboards, were lost because of the unethical methods adopted in ‘capturing’ what really were other people’s property.
In a reaction that still stupefies the mind, AL has undertaken no public action to indicate that it has taken to heart the messages emanating from the last five election defeats. Questions linger as to how a political party can be so indifferent to such clear and blatant show of public disillusionment and remain so complacent as not to undertake a single measure of self evaluation.
Is it that AL is so possessed by its sense of self righteousness, so enamoured with its own perceived self image, so intoxicated by self praise, so immersed in its own ego, that it has become totally deaf to what people are saying?
How could that have happened? Only four and half years ago this party was in the hearts and minds of such an overwhelming number of our people that AL, by itself, got two third majority in the parliament, and a whopping four fifth with its allies.
If we were to identify a single reason for this dramatic fall, in our judgement it would be “arrogance,” pure and simple, that has brought AL to its knees. If it is not shunned immediately, it will be arrogance that will spell its ultimate electoral defeat in the next polls. Unless it is able to come down from its high horse of self-righteousness and swallow its unfounded pride of “we can do no wrong,” and really come closer to the people and listen to what they are saying, there is no way that the present ruling party can regain anything close to its popularity of four and half years ago. Stop thinking of voters as fools, and start thinking of where you have gone wrong. Stop blaming the media and start listening to what they are saying.
Speeches of AL leaders are still full of venom for others. Everything wrong is to be blamed on others, every failure is somebody else’s fault, every crime, by definition, has to be committed by others. The first and the most important thing that AL needs to do is stop believing in its own propaganda. Some of it is outright false, most of it is exaggerated, and the portion that is true has been obliterated by big mistakes like the Padma Bridge, Stock Market scam, Sonali Bank, Destiny, Rana Plaza, not to mention Prof. Yunus.
If Awami League sincerely wants to, and hopes to, turn things around, it must begin by asking where it has gone wrong and how it has lost such a large number of its supporters. Only by accepting that the real reason for the dwindling public support lies within itself, can it start finding answers that may ultimately help it.
To continue to bask in the illusion of self flattery is only to risk obliteration. The writings are on the wall. What AL now needs is the willingness to read them.
The writer is Editor, The Daily Star.