The gathering storm
ONE had hoped that the normal sequel to the talks between the caretaker government and the political parties would have been the parliamentary elections. One had also hoped that the political parities would have agreed to embark on the much talked about political reforms that would have given our politics a new character.
It seems that it is not to be -- now that the Awami League have decided to stick to their condition of no talks without the release of Sheikh Hasina, and the BNP, not surprisingly, following suit with the same demand for release of their leader. It is not surprising that the major political parties will stamp their political clout, since it is they and not the CTG that are supposedly close to the people. It is heartening to see that political parties are according importance to the wishes of their grassroots supporters -- something that one has not been used to seeing them do. One also hopes that this is not a one-off action, an expedient to turn down the CA's request for talks, used as leverage upon the government.
The strenuous effort of our society to find a good government brings to one's mind the universality of the views of wise men, made centuries ago -- on society, government and governance -- whose essence has remained valid both in time and space. It has been said that a "government is the product of our wickedness; that a government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one: for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries BY A GOVERNMENT, which we might expect in a country WITHOUT GOVERNMENT, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer." Were it not for the fact that these views were articulated more than two centuries ago, in a country 12,500 miles away from Bangladesh, striving for independence from Imperial Britain, one might be forgiven for thinking that it was written with our situation in mind.
While we are not without a government at the moment, we have an unelected one with no compulsion to feel answerable to the people except the qualms of their conscience -- the irony is that it has devolved upon an unelected government to seek ways to give the people a government that would be less divisive, since the dividend from a state of being with an elected bad government is a pernicious situation, as bad as being in a situation of being without a government or an unelected one. Unfortunately, people's experiences have been extremely shocking -- with popularly elected government running very close to military dictatorship in their popular rejection. It is the demand of the society that in choosing the lesser evil we like to see that we are provided "the greatest benefit with the least expense."
Efforts to hold a free and fair election and give the people a good government have taken a good part of two years -- with little success, sadly. The caretaker government has spent quite a bit of its effort on extraneous issues -- issues that have had very little to do with their major mandate -- holding a free and fair election. A positive step of the caretaker government has been the talks with political parties, which one had hoped would take us towards the fulfilment of the government's commitment -- ensuring an arrangement that would bring about a political order which, in turn, would prevent the repetition of what we witnessed in the five years of alliance rule in particular.
At least that was what everyone was hoping for. Since those who matter most in holding the elections, the Election Commission, seem to have made holding of elections conditional upon successful outcome of the talks between the CTG and the political parties -- "failure" has imponderable and, one might add, dangerous potential for the country's political roadmap.
But we are not sure what a successful outcome would look like. Since the CTG had, in its wisdom, decided not to lay down an agenda for the talks one cannot but be apprehensive about talks that are left open-ended.
Just talks for talks without any specifics speak neither of the seriousness nor of the commitment of any party. And that is why we see suggestions running in the dozens being proffered by some of the parties that have participated in the talks so far. And there is no way that the CTG can ever accommodate all the suggestions in one basket that would allow holding a free and participatory election.
But regrettably, the exercise appears to be heading nowhere….. and the dark clouds of uncertainty loom large.
With the major political parties deciding to abstain from future political processes, we are cast into uncertainty -- once again. Even at the risk of sounding too fatalistic, it must be said that the chances of election have receded to a great extent. One had the eerie premonition from what one heard of late from the CEC and his two lieutenants, regarding the elections by end 2008, that it might not come about after all. It seems that the misgivings, sadly, might eventuate.
One fails to understand why the CEC linked holding elections with the success of the talks. These are albeit two connected issues, but not inseparable ones. The fact that the CTG, at one time, did not feel it necessary to hold talks, and is now in the process of dialogue without an agenda is indicative of its position on talks and its relation to the election. But dialogue was essential -- since the changes in the political front that might be brought about through ordinances have little chance of permanence without the firm commitment of the political parties.
One hopes that the political parties are aware of the consequences of shunning the process of political transition. Two things are at stake -- a free, fair and participatory election -- made meaningful only by appropriate reform. One is the complement of the other -- and in the context of our experience of the recent past, cannot operate in exclusion of the other. That is the demand of the people -- which neither the political parties nor the caretaker government can leave unfulfilled. Of equal concern is the possibility of severe flux overtaking the country that the new development might bring about.
One gets to see many speculative reports in newspapers -- about alternative arrangements and about new dispensation -- should elections be aborted. These reports one presumes are feelers to assess the pulse of the people. But the fact that such ideas are being bandied about in a section of the print media suggests that these alternatives are featuring in the planning options of certain quarters.
Nothing short of a free and fair election and handing over of the reins of the government to people's elected representatives will do. The blame for the failure to do so will not lie on the shoulders of the government of Mr. Fakhruddin Ahmed alone.