• Friday, April 18, 2014

GROUND REALITIES

This election, this non-election

Syed Badrul Ahsan

HERE'S the truth: more than half the general election is over. Here's the other side of the truth: the single most important opposition political party has opted to stay out of it. Come January 5, we could all be spending our evening speculating on how soon Sheikh Hasina will be forming her new government. There will be other speculations as well, the matter of who or what will constitute the parliamentary opposition and the extent to which such an opposition will amount to anything. And then, of course, comes the matter of how long the tenth parliament will last, meaning how soon the nation will go to the polls to elect the eleventh one.
Khaleda Zia, who has been prime minister twice (thrice, if you count February 1996) and who would love to be back in office, has promised to resist the election, or whatever remains of it, on January 5. That raises the very interesting inquiry of whether her party is really in a position to challenge the ruling party. She and her party colleagues remind us every minute of a people's movement sweeping the Awami League away as part of the democratic process. Such expressions of intent are fine, except that in these past few months, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party has not quite been able to build up a movement, unless of course throwing petrol bombs into moving vehicles and uprooting railway tracks constitute a movement. As you mull these realities, you are hit hard by something you did not expect: a statement from a former diplomat, now one of the many chairmen of the BNP, detecting similarities between what is happening in Afghanistan and what could happen here in Bangladesh. You wonder: is this the sort of individual you would like to see in power?
Move on. The European Community has just told us it did not mean any disrespect towards Bangladesh's people when it decided that its diplomats here would not visit the National Memorial on Victory Day. That is fine. The point, though, is that insult has already been thrown our way. And how was that done? The EU chose to write to the Foreign Office, to inform it officially that it would not be at the memorial. And then it came up with the explanation that these diplomats were busy with a coordination meeting on the day. At six or seven in the morning? Your credulity tends to get stretched quite a bit.
The EU will not send any observers to oversee the remains of the election. Neither will the Commonwealth. Nor will anyone else. The Americans and the Turks are upset that a brutal collaborator of the Pakistan occupation army of 1971 has been hanged. The Pakistanis, in a move which reveals their continued antagonism toward Bengalis, have their national assembly adopt a resolution condemning Bangladesh and describing Mollah as one of their own. They do not realise that unwittingly they have handed us evidence of the Jamaat leaders being mercenaries for their army back in 1971. Mollah, they have said, is their martyr. That is embarrassing for the Jamaat here. It should be embarrassing too for the veteran Bengali journalist who, despite being a freedom fighter, today tries to peddle the notion that this Mollah is not that Mollah, that everyone -- patriots and collaborators -- must live in comradeship and camaraderie in Bangladesh.
Keep moving. Revelations of the wealth ruling Awami League lawmakers have come by in the past five years leave you wondering at the profitable enterprise politics has turned into. When men see their wealth expand from twenty acres of land to more than 2,800 acres of land, when a parliamentarian is a 107 times richer than he was before the last election, you ask if this is the kind of democracy you need in this country. And yet Dipu Moni goes on television, to argue that everything is all right and that the BNP is staying away from the election because its friends in the Jamaat are on trial for war crimes. That is too simplistic a statement to make, one that does not convince very many people.
Of course the BNP pursues a curious philosophy that it has not quite been able to define. It did not really believe that the Awami League would go ahead, despite all these blockades and general strikes, with the elections. Its insistence on a caretaker government to oversee the voting has been pushed on to the backburner by the ferocious doings of its Jamaati friends. Clearly, the Jamaat has gained at the expense of the BNP, which finds its leading lights in prison, and those who are free, in hiding. That raises the very disturbing question of whether democracy is possible through locking up the opposition. You may have an election of sorts, but you hardly have any credibility associated with it. When senior political figures keep running from the police, when a chameleon-like former dictator must be confined in hospital when he is in perfect health, only because he cannot be trusted to be with the ruling party, you actually do not know what is happening in the country, or to it.
And yet you know of the darkness that might be swallowing you up if you are not stirred into action. The violence let loose by the Jamaat has left the country's Hindus cowering in terror, has shown the degree to which a party which caused the death of hundreds of Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan in 1953, which together with the Pakistan army murdered three million Bengalis in 1971, remains a malevolent force ready to smash and kill and destroy in the name of God.
Here's a final truth: the ruling Awami League is without question working in line with the constitution as it prepares to assume office for one more time. But is that good enough? General Ershad's Jatiyo Party presided over a farce of an election in 1988. The BNP did a similar thing in early 1996. Must the Awami League follow their footprints into ignominy? Then again, you ask: why must an election be unacceptable because a political party, no matter how influential, has chosen to boycott it?
This election is no farce, but it could have been a better one. And this country, without the detritus that marred its beauty after 1975, could have been a better world than the one we inhabit today.

The writer is Executive Editor, The Daily Star.
E-mail: ahsan.syedbadrul@gmail.com

Published: 12:00 am Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Last modified: 9:50 pm Wednesday, December 25, 2013

TAGS: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Khaleda Zia Sheikh Hasina

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