The fog before the election
The jails are now full of opposition leaders and activists, BNP's central Nayapaltan office has been under lock and key since October 28, and opposition leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi is now forced to hold virtual press conferences from a secret location. Amid all this, the Election Commission (EC) has said the election will be held on time at any cost, and Awami League leaders are taking all-out preparations for the polls scheduled for early January. Meanwhile, ready-made garment (RMG) workers are on the streets demanding fair wages.
Besides, close to the end of the government's current tenure, a whole bunch of civil servants and police officials got promoted. One should note that these two groups are widely considered to be responsible for helping AL win earlier elections, and are set to play a significant role in the upcoming polls too.
It is in this context that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is inaugurating infrastructure projects around the country, seeking votes for her party. A string of milestone undertakings is providing ample opportunities for an unofficial election campaign. What's more, no one will deny that the country has seen massive development work in the last 15 years. However, the other narrative revolves around rampant corruption, blatant nepotism and substantial money laundering.
While the prime minister is unofficially on her campaign trail, the opposition camp is on the run. One can say that the opposition is responsible for such a turn of events, but no one can really be sure of who it was that threw the first proverbial punch.
Violence in Bangladesh politics is nothing new and not one-sided. When the Awami League was in opposition, it was also engaged in fierce violence. The major political parties—Awami League and BNP—have always been in clashes over the last three decades for their own political interests. So, blaming BNP alone for violence and clashes just before the national election is only an attempt to keep it away from the electoral battle.
This time, however, the circumstances are more complex. The economic situation is quite precarious, the international community is keeping an eye on elections, and the people's frustration appears to have peaked from being deprived of their democratic right to vote. People's votes did not really seem to matter in the last two elections, as the results were obvious even before the first ballot was cast on election day. So, the ruling party wants to show at least a competitive election, and that's why, as per media reports, the government wants some BNP leaders in the election but not the BNP itself. Information Minister Hasan Mahmud told journalists that many were queuing up to join Trinamool BNP, a party founded by former BNP leader Barrister Nazmul Huda in 2015, and that another party would be formed by former commerce minister and BNP leader Hafiz Uddin Ahmad. But Hafiz did not confirm the claim. He said he hoped to stay in the party till the end of his political career.
More than BNP's house of cards, these machinations and remarks reflect poorly on Bangladesh's oldest political party, which is now harbouring questionable ethics—so much so that it is now attempting to break up another political party, one that it claims was born in the cantonment and run by arsonists.
So, when this is the situation with the elections only two months away, one can easily imagine what is going to happen if this continues. And worryingly, we don't see any chance of the scene changing. If anything, it will very likely become more complicated once the election schedule is announced. The opposition parties will come up with more programmes, and the government will be harsher on the opposition to maintain law and order. And consequently, a fearful situation will arise in which voters will not be interested in the festivities surrounding the election, nor will they be interested in casting their votes.
We all know that regional and global geopolitics is carrying a lot of weight in our national election right now. The international community has seldom shown so much interest in our state of affairs before. The US has made its position clear, saying that it wants to see a free and fair election, and for that, it imposed visa restrictions. China has said it wants Bangladesh's elections to be held as per the constitution. India said Bangladesh's election is an internal matter, and it is for the people of Bangladesh to decide their future. India has said as a close friend and partner of Bangladesh, it respects the democratic process and will continue to support the country's vision of a stable, peaceful and progressive nation.
All this can be interpreted in two ways. It can be a matter of great pride that we have become a centre of attention of the big regional and global powers. The other perspective, however, is that although the national election is an internal issue, it is unfortunate that we have not yet been able to devise a sustainable system to hold a free, fair and participatory election through which power can be transferred smoothly.
Winter is knocking on the door, and the morning fog is making its yearly return. The same way, the election is closing in and the uncertainty around it is thickening.
Rising prices of daily essentials, the freefalling value of taka against the dollar, a plummeting foreign exchange reserve, unrest in the RMG sector, and the international community watching quite intently—all these might make it too costly to hold an election like the ones in 2014 or 2018. There are simply too many factors that are unfavourable for the incumbents. Even a slight change in the wrong direction may bring bad news for the authorities.
Mohammad Al-Masum Molla is chief reporter at The Daily Star.
Follow The Daily Star Opinion on Facebook for the latest opinions, commentaries and analyses by experts and professionals. To contribute your article or letter to The Daily Star Opinion, see our guidelines for submission.