Any sign of voter rethinking?
About seven decades ago, French essayist and philosopher Paul Valéry said: "Politics is the art of preventing people from taking part in affairs that properly concern them."
His words must be read with a caveat -- politicians are all swooning over people when limbering into election years.
Even contrition should not be ruled out, however indirectly expressed this may be. The other day at the Gonosashthya Kendra in Savar opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia said: "As human beings, if we had committed any mistake, please forgive us."
Before the 1996 polls, Sheikh Hasina, the then opposition leader too, sought people's forgiveness in so many words imploring them to give the AL "a chance to serve the nation."
Flashback to BNP in power between 2001-2006 with a landslide majority of 199 seats in parliament as against 62 tallied by Awami League. BNP with its two-thirds majority and Jamaat in tow (17 seats) felt not only invincible but also behaved manifestly autocratically.
In the second half of BNP rule, Hawa Bhaban virtually ran a parallel administration, becoming a de facto centre of power. Hawa Bhaban turned into a symbol of kleptocracy. "Nothing of significance would happen without Tareq Rahman's direct or indirect approval" -- at least that was the public perception.
The other tainted track records included post-election persecution, removal of President B. Chowdhury, assault on his hand-maiden Bikalpa Dhara, alleged rigging of Dhaka-10 by-election, oversized cabinet, lethal August 21 grenade attack on AL rally, 10 truck arms haul in Chittagong, assassination of AL leader S.A.M.S. Kibria, and rise of extremism and communalism.
BNP's second tenure in power ending in 2006, Prof Iajuddin wore two hats of president and chief adviser, called for general election on January 22, 2007; 1/11 took place under army-backed Fakhruddin-led caretaker government, emergency was declared and election held on December 29, 2008.
Awami League, coming to power on a massive three-fourths mandate, true to its brute majority, bulldozed bills after bills and amendments after amendments through the parliament by voice vote. Local government system weakened, caretaker system was shed, ACC's wings have been clipped, administration including police politicised and BCL given a free rein.
Incidence of political killings has seen quite a spate. A hundred leaders and activists of different parties had been killed in the ten months preceding November 5 of 2011.
To quote from a Daily Star report: "While some of these killings took place during clashes between ruling Awami League and BNP supporters, a significant share of incidents involves killing of one AL leader by another of the same party."
The report also revealed "over 7000 accused have been released under political consideration during the tenure of the present government while a number of accused awarded death sentences, including 22 convicts in two cases of Natore and Laxmipur, were pardoned."
Former IGP S.M. Shahjahan giving his perspective said: "The murders of political leaders did not happen for political reasons, but in most cases over establishing supremacy for extortion, land grabbing, business factors etc."
Whist a convincing majority should have buoyed up a ruling party into implementing its pledges on the electoral manifesto it ends up abusing the mandate. Again, landslide victory for a party is no guarantee for stable political conditions. On the contrary, it provokes political instability from the defeated side.
This is borne out by the figures of alternating parliament boycotts and somewhat hartals as well. AL had boycotted 135 sittings out of a total of 400 from 1991 to 1996. BNP stayed away 163 out of 382 sittings between 1996 and 2001. Subsequent to its landslide defeat in 2001 election AL stayed away from 223 out 373 sittings in the eighth parliament. The figures for ninth parliament when compiled would perhaps read worse.
Awami League observed 266 days of hartal during 1991-1996 BNP regime as compared with BNP's 215 days during 1996-2001 Awami League regime.
It appears therefore, handing massive electoral mandate to any political party ends up being more of a bane than a boon. It can't be an unalloyed blessing in a context of mutual distrust between two major political parties.
In fact, close results may be a blessing in disguise; balanced poll outcome can foster stability and broad-based representation of popular will underpinned by check and balance.
For an electorate that is divided in the middle with comparable vote banks shared by the major political parties, it is either a barely single majority party scenario or a coalition government or a system of proportional representation that can serve the interests of the nation better.
In 1991 BNP had come to power with an equation of 140 seats and Jamaat's 18 seats as against Awami League's 88 and JP's 35 seats. Lack of landslide mandate for the BNP made for relatively balanced governance, not brisling with an arrogance of power. Similarly, during 1996-2001 AL government with 146 seats in parliament as against BNP's 116 ruled with relative moderation. People still remember the first government of the BNP after Zia and the first AL government after 21 years out of power to have been soberer compared to their reincarnations.