An opinion survey conducted by Bengali Daily Prothom Alo and Org-Quest has revealed that a whopping 90 percent Bangladeshis want the next parliamentary election to be held under a non-partisan government. The Bengali Daily published the survey result on May 11. It has given a huge political weapon to Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led opposition parties to use it in their movement to justify their demand for a non-partisan election-time government.
It also shows that people's increased support for a non-partisan election time government in comparison to the previous two surveys. In 2011's survey 73 percent and in 2012's survey 76 percent respondents have favoured a non-partisan election time government system. But within a year the idea has seen a 14 percent increase.
There is no doubt that the survey result has annoyed the government and the ruling Awami League (AL). It is the AL-led government that abolished the non-partisan caretaker government system in 2011 by amending the constitution. And since then it has taken a strong stance against the caretaker government system. In their defence, they argue that non-elected people will never be allowed to rule the country even for a moment. So, the opinion survey result has failed to satisfy the policymakers of the government and the ruling AL.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, her cabinet colleagues, party leaders, workers and supporters may question the credibility of the survey. They may say that the survey, conducted on only 3000 people, does not reflect the opinion of 16 crore people. They may even question the survey methodology. They may raise many more questions to undermine the results of the survey. But all their efforts will not be able to hide the truth as people know well that free and fair parliamentary elections were held in the country only under non-partisan caretaker governments. And the majority of the populace still believe that free and fair parliamentary elections are not possible under a partisan government in power.
However there is a very significant underlying message in the survey result-- many ruling party men, supporters and well wishers also support the non-partisan election time government. According to the survey result, only eight percent respondents support a partisan government in office during the parliamentary polls. [The remaining two percent respondents were either confused or refrained from answering the question on an election time government.] It does not mean the ruling AL enjoys support of only eight percent. It has the support of at least 30 percent of the total voters. So, it can be said that a significant percentage of AL men favour non-partisan election time government. And only eight percent respondents are with the present stance of the government and the AL.
Some senior AL lawmakers, who were members of the parliamentary special committee for constitutional amendments, however were in touch with the pulse of the people. They were against abolishing the caretaker government system. They had argued that the political reality was that BNP would not join the parliamentary polls if the AL remained in office during the election. It is also true, in their view, for the AL and it will not participate in the polls under a BNP-led government. So, the parliamentary special committee proposed for retaining the caretaker government system suggesting some changes in it.
But Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina did not agree with them. She had relied partly on the Supreme Court's verdict that declared the caretaker government system illegal. She did not pay any heed to the other part of the verdict that said that two more parliamentary elections could be held under the caretaker government system for the sake of security of the people and the country. Hasina's government finally abolished the caretaker government system in June 2011 by amending the constitution. That made the future of a credible parliamentary election uncertain. Since then, the ruling AL and opposition BNP have remained at loggerheads. The possibility of holding an election participated by all major political parties has been diminished. The politics has taken a violent turn. People fear of more violence in the streets in the days to come.
Amid such a situation, the UN has formally stepped into the scene. UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernández-Taranco arrived in Dhaka on Friday, leading a five-member delegation. Next day, he met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia urging them to reach a consensus on holding a free and fair national election with the participation of all political parties.
The senior UN officials held a series of meetings with others including Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmad. He stressed the need for creating a healthy atmosphere for holding the next parliamentary election to strengthen the democratic process in Bangladesh.
Talking to journalists after the meeting with the UN official, Shirin Sharmin said, “They [UN] think no solution is possible through conflict. They are urging all to search for a solution through talks.”
It still remains uncertain whether the AL and BNP will be able to reduce the gap that exists between them and reach a consensus over the mode of an election time government. Will they talk to resolve the crisis? The growing animosity between them does not encourage people to be hopeful about the fate of any such dialogue. Moreover, the way Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia are leading their respective parties leaves little scope for democratic practice, let alone debate and discussion at the party forums to find a solution to the problems.
Like ordinary people, the two ladies know it very well that after the rise of any unconstitutional force--like the one in January 2007--top political leaders will have to face a tough time. So, learning the art of compromise and of negotiation to resolve the crisis is the demand of time.
The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.