IF free, fair and credible election is the road to democracy, we have walked the distance covering the road as best as we could. December 29 finally marked the end of the cold long night of slumber of despair and the beginning of the dawn of hope for democracy as people across the country turned up in large numbers to cast their vote for a new parliament after long seven years.
The AL-led grand alliance under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina has won by a landslide. The BNP-JI alliance led by Begum Khaleda Zia has been convincingly voted in to opposition. This is a clear verdict of the politically conscious people censuring the BNP-JI alliance not only for its failure to deliver but also for its temerity to have torn asunder the image of this country by promoting authoritarian rule, rampant corruption, criminalisation and Islamist militarism to a height never seen before in the history of this country.
The poll results prove once again that if people of this country are allowed to vote freely they do not make mistake in pronouncing their verdict.
There is no doubt whatsoever that it was the fairest and most credible election ever held in this country. Although some old tainted political faces have reappeared in the new parliament, we can legitimately boast of moving forward towards democracy. This massive electoral victory by AL and its allies is essentially a victory for democracy, communal harmony, social justice, progress, and development and the rule of law.
It is now up to the newly elected government to be installed, and more particularly up to Sheikh Hasina as the new prime minister, to prove equal to the task of giving us democracy, social justice, rule of law, communal harmony, progress and development, etc which constitute the benchmark of good governance.
We do not expect full-blown democracy to descend on this country in a single stroke from the new government and the new parliament. But what we do expect is the minimum democratic culture to be introduced and practiced by the government and all our elected representatives including the opposition.
To begin with, let those who have won and are going to form the new government not to be arrogant of power but be as humble as possible in a spirit of shouldering enormous responsibilities given by the people.
And those who have been voted by the people to sit in the opposition should gracefully accept defeat in a spirit of showing respect for the people's verdict.
Let our ninth parliament function for the first time as the central and focal point of our politics as any parliament in a democracy does, giving maximum possible space to the opposition to freely articulate their views in objective criticism of the government and in law making.
Let the deputy speaker be elected from the opposition and let both the speaker and the deputy speaker resign from their parties to be absolutely non-partisan while they preside over the proceedings of the parliament.
Let the new prime minister ensure that when he or she decides to face and answer questions from law-makers on the floor of the parliament, maximum space is given to the opposition members.
Let various parliamentary standing committees be constituted with adequate representation by opposition MPs as quickly as possible, but not later than the second session of the parliament. It would be desirable to have some important committees headed by opposition members.
The new prime minister would do well to ensure that the mistakes of the past AL government are not repeated. In fact, the new government must walk an extra mile to give democracy an institutional shape. It must not interfere in the functioning of the EC and the ACC. It must provide these two institutions maximum possible support so that they can function as responsible state institutions and deliver as expected of them.
The government must not interfere in the holding of the upazila election, which must go ahead as scheduled. The other issue relates to electoral disputes. This is a matter which should be left to the judiciary to settle.
The new government should remain focused on how it delivers on its pre-election pledges and commitments more intensely that ever before. The new generation voters, the civil society and the media, particularly the electronic media, are more politically conscious now and represent a more powerful voice than any time in the past.
The government will have to undertake many essential political reforms in keeping with the aspirations of the people for a genuinely democratic polity. Nothing will satisfy the democracy loving people more than the restoration of the 1972 constitution in its original form and content.
It will now be very difficult for any government to get away easily with corruption and riding roughshod over the people as the BNP-JI alliance government did. Thanks to the mind-boggling media coverage of the saga of massive corruption and wrong-doings of the BNP-JI government and the equally startling hunt-down by the caretaker government for the corrupt political heavyweights and light-heavyweights after 1/11. The media people will doubtless keep up the pressure on the government.
BNP must realise that its consorting with the JI, which had opposed our independence and our liberation war, has earned it the wrath of the people. It can still be a political force to be reckoned with if it can dismantle its authoritarian leadership structures at national and regional levels and allow democratic culture to flourish within the party.
But most importantly it must distance itself from political elements tainted as corrupt and as collaborators and war criminals. With clean and patriotic leadership it can bounce back again.