The verdict of the 11th parliamentary polls is clear: Awami League has secured a decisive victory with two-thirds majority. Sheikh Hasina, who is set to become prime minister for a third consecutive term, made history on Sunday as this is a wholly unprecedented feat.
Notwithstanding the reservations about the election process, we would like to reiterate that for the new government, there are many challenges that lie ahead which ought to be prioritised because that is what will dictate the future trajectory of the country. The AL, in the last 10 years, has made significant strides in terms of economic development, poverty reduction, food security, combating militancy, and universal primary education, among others. It was under the AL government that Bangladesh reached the milestone of becoming eligible for graduation out of the Least Developed Country group into the developing countries' group. There are many such notable achievements that the AL must be proud of.
However, during its tenure, we have also witnessed human rights abuses and a lack of good governance and rule of law. This has eroded the confidence of many citizens and created a climate of fear as freedom of expression and assembly remains under threat. The AL government, despite concerns by rights bodies and civil society, has not been able to shrug off the spectre of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Furthermore, the fact that it failed to rein in vested groups who conducted themselves with absolute impunity and indulged in rampant corruption is something that continues to be an overriding concern for citizens. This was perhaps most visibly manifested in the banking sector where a toxic loan default culture led to nonperforming loans reaching a massive Tk 1 lakh crore as of September 2018—the highest in Bangladesh's history. Other longstanding problems include land grabbing, corruption in the public sector, and an overall lack of transparency and accountability in public institutions. For example, the AL government has taken up a bold initiative of jumpstarting many megaprojects, but many of these projects have been plagued with massive cost overruns and delays and a lack of monitoring and evaluation which is a primary component for evaluating project efficiency. What must also be mentioned is that the AL has failed to put a stop to the Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL) flexing its muscle now and then.
As the AL steps into its third consecutive term in office, it cannot continue to ignore these thorny issues because they have only served to hold back the pace of the country's progress. The AL must recognise that these issues that have long remained unaddressed are major impediments that put a dampener on the innumerable achievements of the nation as a whole.
We wish we could say that Sunday's election was completely free of allegations of irregularities and violence. But that is unfortunately not the case. The election process, as news reports and media coverage suggest, lends itself to question. It is not the victory of the AL that is to be doubted but the overwhelming nature of the victory itself. The number of seats that the AL has already won is the highest the party has ever secured, only second to the number of seats it won in the country's first election held in March 1973. Thus, the scale of the AL's victory, and the statistical rarity as one can gauge by looking at the election results, is something that analysts have cast doubt on. To put it simply, the more we examine the nature of the victory, the more incredulous it seems.
Having said that, the fact of the matter is that the AL is set to govern the country for the next five years. And we hope that the maturity with which the AL chief reacted to the party's victory, by forbidding holding of victory rallies, prevails in its sincere assessment of the victory at large—that is to say that the AL should not simply take the resulting figures at face value but subject them to honest evaluation and good judgment. Such an evaluation will not affect their secured position in power but only help them assess the reality better and thus govern the country more judiciously.