Former Cabinet Secretary Dr Akbar Ali Khan says there is no alternative to a free and fair election for sake of strengthening democracy. In an interview with The Daily Star, he talks on different aspects of the election. Mohammad Al Masum Molla and Wasim Bin Habib conducted the interview. Below is the full text of the interview.
TDS: What's the importance of this election for our democracy?
Akbar Ali Khan (AAK): This election is very important for the country. In the last 30 years, all the elections were held under a caretaker government, except the last one, which was not participatory. This time, the election is going to be held under a partisan government and the opposition parties are participating. Participation of all the parties under a partisan government is a positive sign for the country's politics. But the concern is that still the major two political parties are involved in violence. If the election result is not accepted by all, especially from page 1
by the opposition parties, then there will be no qualitative change in the country's politics. Democracy will move backwards. So there is no alternative to a good election.
Q: Why is a free and fair election needed?
(AAK): Election means free and fair. If the poll is not free and fair we cannot term it to be an election. If election is held in a democratic atmosphere and manner, election must be free and fair. If free and fair election is not held, it is difficult to say what would happen. What I can say is that it may not be good for the country and its people.
Q: How do you evaluate the debate over development versus democracy?
(AAK): I do not find any debate between democracy and development. For Bangladesh, both development and democracy are necessary. If democracy does not prevail, then it would not be possible to uphold the ideology and spirit of the liberation war. Similarly, if democracy prevails but there is no development, it is also not acceptable. So we need both and there is no scope for creating any debate over the issue. Both must go hand in hand.
Q: How do you evaluate the atmosphere that prevailed during electioneering?
(AAK): According to media reports, it seems that there is no atmosphere for holding a free and fair election. There were a number of incidents of attack on the candidates, supporters and opposition campaigns. To one party, the election seems festive but to other, the election seems [to be] taking place amid a violent and dreadful situation. Till now, we did not see any effective step from the Election Commission to create a congenial atmosphere where voters can cast their votes without fear and there will be no irregularities.
But if people of the country go to the polling stations and cast their votes without any fear, we may get a surprising result. But that possibility is also very low. In Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Maldives, the ruling party wanted to influence the voting but the people of those countries foiled that attempt and reflected their will.
Q: Around 2.5 crore new voters will exercise their franchise in this election. What's your message to them?
(AAK): I urge all voters -- not only the young -- that they cast their votes realising the importance of democracy and considering the interests of the country. If people fail to cast their votes, democracy will suffer and their right to cast vote in the next election may be uncertain.
[Dr Akbar Ali Khan was born in 1944 at Nabinagar in Brahmanbaria. He obtained his Honours and MA in history from University of Dhaka. Later, he studied in Queen's University, Canada and obtained his MA and PhD in economics. He joined the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) in 1967. A former chairman of NBR and secretary of Internal Resources Division, he was appointed cabinet secretary in 2001 and retired from that position in 2002. Dr Khan, also a former chairman of Regulatory Reforms Commission, was an adviser to a caretaker government in 2006 and resigned in protest against the failure of the government in ensuring a free, fair and impartial election.]