Another restoration of democracy

Issue 21 - Dec 2008

Plaban Mahmud

The Awami League is now in the position the Democrats were in during the US elections in November. People want to see a change of government. Some believe that General Moeen U Ahmed, the army chief, supports the League. The Awami League leaders, however, may be overconfident about their prospects and have not vigourously countered BNP propaganda.

Meanwhile many pro-BNP and Jamaati supporters are alleging a conspiracy to bring the Awami League to power. Redrawing the constituencies according to demography by the Election Commission has affected the BNP adversely. The revised Representation of People Ordinance (RPO) 2008 enacted by the caretaker government bars those individuals who have defaulted on utility bills, have been convicted or are war criminals; from standing for elections. The BNP and the Jamaat are vehemently opposing it because some of their potential candidates will be disqualified. The main problem of the BNP is that most of its top leaders are either behind bars on corruption charges or are on the run. Sources of their wealth are in question, their bank accounts frozen or under scrutiny by the government, and they will need time to clear the mess. There are feuds within the party structure in almost all local divisions. Many of their leaders are not hopeful of winning. Leave alone a majority, they are not sure whether they will be able to form a strong opposition. Indeed, they are not even sure of their ability to post enough strong candidates in 300 seats across the country.  

This is where BNP’s coalition partner Jamaat-e-Islami comes into the picture. In the recent years it has gained poise and strength when most of the leaders of BNP and Awami League were reeling under charges of corruption. It is now bargaining with BNP to post at least 100 candidates for the coalition and if it wins most of those seats, the coalition will move to the far-right.  

The other players in the political field, like the former dictator Hussein Mohammed Ershad’s Jatiyo party, and ex-president, veteran ex-BNP leader Badruddoza Chowdhury’s Bikalpa Dhara or Kamal Hossain’s Gono forum are not seen as alternatives to those three main political parties.   

The BNP, having realised that they have no option but to participate in the election, proposed that if election was deferred for 10 days to December 28th and their three point demands are met then they will participate. Their three points include  abrogation of Section 91E of RPO act which states that Election Commission can cancel the candidature of anyone who, on investigation, is found violating the electoral code of conduct. These measures had been put in place to add more teeth to the hitherto un-enforced code of conduct.  

The Election Commission acceded to the demands. It announced that the general election would be postponed to December 29th. The date for submission of nomination papers was also extended giving the undecided parties some more time to prepare for the election. The government had no other option: for if the BNP and the Jamaat did not take part in the election then strikes and violence would return to the streets of Bangladesh, making the incumbent government dysfunctional.  

So what future awaits Bangladesh? Will the voters allow these two begums to regain the control of Bangladesh politics? Will Bangladeshis be able to disengage from the confrontational and polarised politics of Bangladesh? The final decision, wonderfully, lies in the hands of the voters.