IT has been a caricature of an election. The results were known even before the votes were actually cast. Even in such a one-sided election, we witnessed instances of stuffing of ballot box, fake voters, ballot box hijacking and other kinds of gross irregularities. The tragedy is, an election that the ruling Awami League itself has termed as one to maintain the formality, has cost the nation enormously in terms of money, materials and human lives. Thanks to the bullheadedness of the ruling leadership, an overzealous Election Commission at its beck and call that the farce could not be avoided. Thanks are also due to the opposition because their boycott, blockades and shutdowns supplied the ruling party with a cause to go ahead with this hollow electoral exercise.
Thus winning an uncontested election, the ruling party should now at least be relieved that it has been after all able to avoid the nightmare of ceding power to its arch rival the opposition BNP and its dreaded allies. Perhaps, BNP is also somewhat happy in that their boycott has led to a near voter-less election, which will lead to a government that will be suffering from a congenital legitimacy crisis.
Even so, the Awami League with its three quarters majority in the 10th Jatiya Sangsad (it has won in 235 seats out of 300) is set to form the next government. But what next? Will it be business as usual and the government continue functioning the way it has been during the last five years, or will it go for another election that will be a well-participated, contested, inclusive and a credible one?
The BNP has already declared a fresh 48-hour nationwide hartal from Monday morning demanding that the government scrap the result of the just-held election. Obviously the message it is trying to convey is that the days ahead for the outgoing government and the new one to be sworn in soon are not going to be smooth. Obviously, the aim is to put pressure on the government until it starts re-engaging the opposition in a dialogue on the conduct of the 11th JS election. The reason that the opposition BNP camp may be thinking in this line is manifest from the fact that the prime minister and her cabinet colleagues on several occasions stated before the just-held election for the 10th JS that it was a mere formality for the sake of meeting certain constitutional obligations and that after having completed this phase, the next step would be to set the stage for holding the 11th JS election. And to that end they would initiate dialogue with the opposition subject to the condition that it (BNP) cuts off all of its political relations with Jamaat-e-Islami. Here again a condition is being set even before the circumstances for such a future dialogue has been created.
Given our past experience, the prospect of yet another round of dialogues between the two rival political camps and that too after the AL has consolidated its power in the new government is rather a pie in the sky for the opposition. There is hardly any compelling reason for the next government to consider holding such a dialogue in the near future unless there is some inescapable pressure from within or without the country. Still, one is led to believe that the new government would be willing to get rid of the 'insufficient legitimacy' syndrome that it is now afflicted with.
So, how long will the BNP be able to sustain with its agitation programme, if the deepening of the 'legitimacy crisis' of the 10th JS that it is banking on turns out to be a long-drawn one?
But such vulnerability of the opposition's situation does not also automatically provide the new AL-government with infinite latitude to deal with its opposition and its ally Jamaat with an iron fist, an idea that many in the ruling circle have already started to peddle. But such ideas are not only unsustainable, but also a prescription for disaster for a government that that does not enjoy adequate mandate from the voting public.
And the temptation of drawing a broad line between the ruling AL plus its allies and the opposition BNP including its alliance partners, especially Jamaat, as one between pro and anti liberation forces is too simplistic. Such stereotyping of the opposition with its Islamist ally linked to their anti-liberation role in 1971 can serve so long as the discourse is limited to electoral politics. But the thought of taking it beyond that to start a cleansing drive using the state apparatus is going too far. It is, in fact, an issue to be addressed and resolved on the political and cultural plane and not through the intervention of the state.
Hopefully, both the ruling party and the opposition are aware of their limitations and would soon find the reasons to reengage themselves in a dialogue. The aim should be to hold a well-participated and contested election for the 11th JS where people can take part in a festive mood. This is the only way for democracy to thrive undeterred in Bangladesh.
The wrtier is Editor, Science & Life, The Daily Star,