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|Volume 12 |Issue 02| January 11, 2013 ||
The message is written clearly on the wall. The ruling Awami League (AL) is losing popularity at a speed that, four years ago, even its opponents would not have thought possible. The declining support of the government is evident in a Prothom Alo opinion poll in which only 35 percent of the voters think they are going to vote for the Boat in the next election; four years ago it was a staggering 56 percent.
The AL's last four years in office is a classic–but in no way unique–example of failure in governance. It is however rare in the sense that the party leadership has managed to blow it up all on its own, for at the beginning of its term, the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) , being brought low, was overwhelmingly rejected to a mere 30 seats in the parliament.
The AL should have learnt from the sobering lesson that the electorate gave to the BNP in 2008, but it has not. Newspapers are abound with reasons that have driven one third of AL voters towards other parties. From share-market scam to 'patriot Abul': the two sides of Sheikh Hasina's balance sheet in the last four years do not quite match. Absent is also the brinkmanship with which she had steered the nation and the party through the turbulent transition to democracy in 2008. The party and its leadership have a lot of soul searching to do, and a fresh new vision to run the country in the next nine months before the election can turn things round for the AL, or, in the worst case scenario, it will be able to slow the slump in the party's popular vote.
In fact, there is a lot of troubleshooting to do. It can be started with a massive anti-corruption drive. The Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) at first gave the beleaguered former communications boss a clean chit only to flip-flop on the inclusion of his name in the Padma graft case. The alleged corruption surrounding the bridge has severely dented the government's image, and the ACC has been the worst hit institution. To begin with, the government should hold a free and impartial probe into the bridge scandal, making all its correspondence with the World Bank public. It should also let the ACC, which is a paper tiger now, to function freely. True or not, there is a public perception that the ACC is remote controlled by the government, which is not going to bode well with the voters in the election.
There have been allegations of corruption against some Ministers and government Advisers. Allegations of some AL-backed businessmen's hand in the recent stock market scandal have also been raised. They must be thoroughly investigated, and their reports can be made public. The AL is a big party with a 63-year-old illustrious history which includes leading the Bengali nation towards freedom. If the party leadership purges a few corrupt members, the AL will become cleaner and stronger. Cleaning its own fold has been long overdue and the AL should start it now.
Another sore issue that is in dire need of help is deteriorating law and order. Over the last few months there has been a sharp decline in the rule of law. The government's decision to give wholesale immunity to some convicted criminals coupled with some sensational murders and extrajudicial killings have robbed people of their peace of mind. Restoring people's confidence is going to take a long time, but the government has to start the process now. Clamping down on criminals, irrespective of their political allegiance, can be the first step to bring back people's trust in the government. For the last few years, there has been a massive politicisation of the police, this also has to go.
It is evident from some comments made by some ruling party members that the party wants to use the war crimes trial to get extra mileage in the next election. Any political use of the outcome of the trial will harm the issue, which in the end will benefit the backers of the war criminals. The government must let the trial function without any outside interference, for it is not any political party's pet issue, it is the demand of the nation that badly needs to heal its wounds to be at peace with its past.
Recent opinion polls also tell us that the provision for a caretaker government to create a level playing field before the election is hugely popular among the voters. The government's decision to get rid of it has made the AL appear morally weak before the nation. The party should sit with the main opposition to find out a way out of the current political impasse. It is good that both the parties are ready to talk, but what is preventing them to sit together and find a way out of the dead end is not clear. The sooner the government initiates a dialogue with the main opposition, the better.
Politics is not all about winning election; sometimes it is also about exiting gracefully.
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