Our democracy won't survive another controversial election

Bangladesh deserves free and inclusive polls

The government is reportedly looking to go all out to make the next general election inclusive, which is essential to saving our wobbling democracy from descending into a major crisis. The extreme level of adversarial politics and democratic deficit that have plagued our nation for more than a decade have eroded the foundations of our key institutions, led to deterioration of rule of law and human rights, and held us back from developing a politically mature society. That is why, above all, we want fair and inclusive polls – a sentiment which, we believe, is shared by the overwhelming majority of our population.

After the experiences of the last two general elections – and several local level elections – there is a widespread sense of doubt that has crept in among voters about the credibility of our elections. It falls upon the government to convince both the general population and the opposition parties that it is sincere about creating a truly level playing field. Unfortunately, the derailment tactics used by the AL against BNP programmes over the last months – that too with the help of state apparatuses at times – have thus far failed to ignite confidence in the ruling party's previous assurances.

The recently concluded by-elections to six parliamentary constituencies, although relatively peaceful, left much to be desired, given the low voter turnout, widespread intimidation and harassment during campaigns in all those constituencies, to the mysterious disappearance (and reappearance) of one contestant. Although the incumbent Election Commission (EC) showed some promise with a few of its actions in the beginning – particularly in comparison to its weaker predecessor – it has not been able to keep up that momentum, and seems to have fallen back on old practices of towing the party line.

The clear absence of voters is a strong message for the government as to how little faith citizens now have in our electoral system. The reality is that genuine electoral reforms alone can reignite voter interest ahead of the next general election, and ensure the participation of all political parties in it.

The BNP, on the other hand, must also cooperate with the ruling party and the EC to come to an acceptable compromise to ensure its participation. Any genuine outreach by the government should be welcomed and met by the BNP with an equally genuine willingness to negotiate a solution to the current political impasse that has brewed over time. The BNP should carefully analyse the pros and cons of boycotting another election (which it has threatened to do on a few occasions), particularly in light of what its boycott of the 2014 general elections has cost the party and the country in general.

Ultimately, the country cannot afford a repeat of another boycotted election like that of 2014, nor can it afford another controversial election such as the one in 2019. We have lost a lot of ground in regard to our democracy because of them. We hope the EC will take all necessary measures to fulfil its constitutional obligation of delivering a free and fair election to the people – a precondition of which is to ensure the inclusion of the major political parties.