EC’s act is ‘an improbable fiction’
The announcement of the election schedule by the Election Commission, ignoring calls from various political parties for a negotiated solution to the issue of election-time government before the declaration, is not only deplorable but also an act of adding fuel to the fire. Its action has already contributed to the deterioration of the political situation, and it will continue to reverberate in the coming days.
Since October 28, the country has descended into a violent situation. Unprovoked attacks on an opposition rally, excessive use of force by police, and subsequent mysterious incidents of arson in buses and trains, mostly in the presence of police, are the most palpable aspects of it. This has resulted in the death of a member of police, political activists and innocent citizens. The clampdown on the opposition leaders and activists is another aspect of the ongoing violence. The arrests of political activists exceeded the 10,000 mark a few days ago. If we are to believe the descriptions of the cases filed by the police and the identity of the perpetrators alleged to be involved, dead people are resurrecting themselves, only to engage in violence against the members of law enforcement. Families of political activists are now being hounded by police, in contravention of the law and internationally recognised fundamental rights. The violence has taken a new shape in past weeks, some of which have been reported in the media. The silent, yet terrifying, violence is the alleged pressure on political actors by state agencies to participate or face the music. This is a reaffirmation of the blurring of the state, government and the ruling party.
While these were taking place, there was a call from the US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu for unconditional dialogue among political parties. The Election Commission's decision to move ahead without giving the political parties time to respond to the call, might please the incumbent but was uncalled for. Whereas CEC Kazi Habibul Awal told The Daily Star in mid-October, "It is my personal opinion that dialogues in a democracy are a means to resolving differences, fully or in part." Ironically, he and his commission acted in a manner that a dialogue cannot take place. Whether such a dialogue would have happened and yielded any result is a different question; the EC shut that door with a big bang, that is obvious. If the EC is under the impression that snubbing the US government's effort will go unnoticed and can be wished away, it is profoundly mistaken.
While the EC remained oblivious to these post-October-28 developments, the announcement belies its own assessments of not too long ago. On October 26, CEC Kazi Habibul Awal said that "conducive environment expected for the upcoming national parliamentary election has not yet been achieved." What happened after such a statement that dramatically reversed the situation and made the environment conducive—except for the crackdown on the opposition and flaring up of violence? Lest we forget, previously the CEC insisted that "ensuring a fair election may be challenging without participation of the major political parties." The EC's various moves, including the announcement of the schedule, are opposite to the promises made in September 2022 in the EC's roadmap. The 14 challenges outlined in the document included building trust in the EC and ensuring neutrality of the local administration. We know the state of both.
Considering the opaque process of the appointment of the EC, and its decision to give up its own power as a marker of its willingness to fulfil the incumbent's wishes, there was not much to expect; yet, its activities remind me of a dialogue in Act 3, Scene 4, of the Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare: "If this were play'd upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction."
Ali Riaz is distinguished professor of political science at Illinois State University in the US, non-resident senior fellow of the Atlantic Council, and president of the American Institute of Bangladesh Studies (AIBS). His forthcoming book is titled Pathways of autocratization: The tumultuous journey of Bangladeshi politics.
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