The road to National Polls in Bangladesh

The country has gone through a transformation since 1991 and is now one of the world’s most vibrant young democracies

by Anwar A Khan

( November 27, 2018, Dhaka, Sri Lanka Guardian) Bangladesh will go to the National Polls on 30 December 2018, so political parties; ambitious businessmen and ambitious politicians are already maneuvering for position. The country’s election is driven by race and religion; identity politics played a big role in the outcome. It remains to be seen if identity politics will play as big a role in the election. However, despite secular political parties, various hardline conservative Islamic trading groups are also mobilised with great effect during the election.

The country, however, has gone through a transformation since 1991 and is now one of the world’s most vibrant young democracies. Bangladesh’s economic growth is thrilling in effect and will likely remain so. The country is growing fast enough to get there and has not changed one thing that holds it back: its institutions. Many young people are out of work and they lack the skills to compete in a globalised economy. However, the legacy of weak institutions remains and with identity politics at play, the pendulum has the potential to swing back. 2018 polls will likely mark a test in tolerance for Bangladesh and whether it can maintain its secular moderate democracy into the future.

We wish that the new government to be emerged after the elections does not face the difficult task of enacting the reforms necessary for full democratisation and returning back to the spirit of 1972 constitution. In any case, the precedent has been set in the country: Changing the national government through elections under the constitutional framework will now be possible.

Moreover, this election would mean important changes for governance, society and many more areas. But the political complexities call into question how radical this change will actually be. The new government to be installed after the voting has to promise some reforms but the question remains as to whether these go far enough to address the degree to which minorities have been marginalised. If not, this support could waver in the long term. The real test will be whether the incoming administration can begin to bridge this gap…

It is not yet clear how radical the new government’s reform agenda will be. If anything, there is a risk that changes will not go far enough to tackle some of the country’s deep structural and societal inequalities. But with a mandate to move away from the policies of the past, and there is now an exciting opportunity for meaningful change in the country. We have not heard the Election Communiqués from the major political parties as yet. And that is very significant to hear from them to enable the voters for their right choice of candidates and the political party.

In the context of present political scenario, the most distressing part of the opposition political alliance under the leadership of Dr. Kamal Hossain, one time a very close yokefellow of Bangladesh’s Founding Father Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and other key leaders of National Oikya Front - veteran freedom fighters who fought valiantly in 1971 to liberate the soil of Bangladesh from the occupation Pakistani military force have now further ceded to the feet of anti-Bangladesh liberation forces and their mango-twigs.

The new government to be installed after the National Elections will face many challenges. Many governmental bodies need new and firm guarantees of its independence and competence. Official bodies that regulate elections, fight corruption and cope with crime require foolproof insulation from political meddling. The minorities need strong support before and after the voting to find their way into the country’s mainstream from marginalisation. They have to be freed from harassment, even persecution, by an overblown religious bureaucracy that also victimises moderate Muslims. A country that lost large portions of political freedom because of their past misdeeds will confront a heavy agenda of revitalisation and removing the scars of bad smells of anti-Bangladesh liberation force from their skins.

Many problems are urgent, and short-term remedies need to be initiated and translated into realities. Personnel of doubtful probity have to be removed from important commissions. A clean-up of the government will be a dire emergency needed one. The new government has to be quick to act when it comes to tarnished officials, and it has to promise to repeal oppressive laws, if any.

Systemic reforms will be harder. Creating real independence for institutional bodies that need to be free of partisan meddling is more challenging. That will require borrowing of techniques developed elsewhere. At the very least, durable institutions depend on deliberate decisions that are made ceremoniously, are well recorded, and are widely agreed, so that any violation will be immediately obvious.

The Bangladesh’s Constitution is decidedly democratic and contains clear guarantees of religious freedom for people of all religions.  Still, the most urgent parts of a democracy agenda — non-discrimination and freedom of thought — may be hard to secure rapidly or fully given the constellation of forces sitting in Bangladesh’s Parliament.

Most major political parties and candidates organised partisan poll watchers to deploy to polling stations on Election Day.

Participation rates in the voting will have increased if automation in full for voting is implemented sooner reverting a downward trend that was hindering democracy. The confidence of the public in the result and the use of technology would help to enable people all over the country and even those living overseas to make their voices heard. The count of the vote counting machines is to be found coincide with the manual count of the time in the random manual audit conducted by an appropriate authority. The result of the audit strongly to be validated the accuracy of the automated election system. The result should be as impressive as almost perfect.

Given the challenges involved in observing the move to electronic technologies, greater capacity building and coordination among the groups would produce a more effective observation of the elections. In past, IT groups and traditional election observation groups did not coordinate their resources well enough to take advantage of each other’s strengths, knowledge and networks. Citizen observation groups, particularly those who lacked IT capacity in the past did not sufficiently refine their monitoring methodologies to take into account the new technologies of the past elections. In many cases, they did not have the specific expertise to anticipate where problems could occur. Without official access to many aspects of the process, the groups often had to rely on access to contacts and relationships to gain access to information on EC’s decisions and processes (insider information), rather than formal opportunities to observe such processes. Finally, several groups noted they should have better trained observers on understanding the new technology and its vulnerabilities.

Most major political parties and candidates organised partisan poll watchers to deploy to polling stations on Election Day. Parties in Bangladesh have done this for many years under the manual election system, so the switch to electronic counting technologies  has presented a challenge. As in previous elections, parties and candidates tended to field poll watchers in locations where they had a stronger ground presence and where they were most concerned about fraud.

For decades, the phenomenon of the opposition coalition has gained growing traction and interest in Bangladesh. There should have been a broad and impressive coalition, bringing together many well-known faces and politicians who have electoral support outside of traditional opposition strongholds based on the true spirit that we achieved in 1971 through our glorious liberation war. But for every opposition alliance Bangladesh has seen, there have been several more that have crumbled after early optimism or fallen flat at the ballot box. One crucial indicator of whether an opposition coalition will succeed is how polarised the political landscape is. This can determine the degree to which parties are able to join forces coherently and without undermining their own reputation and principles.

There are tricky questions. But in many ways, they are just the start. Even once these dilemmas are resolved; there is still the ultimate question of whether even a perfectly-coherent and functional opposition coalition has much chance of winning. Bringing together a range of opposition parties is the first step in defeating the ruling party, not the final blow. On this front, the prospects for the opposition in Bangladesh do not look particularly rosy.

AL remains the most organised political party with the largest organisational reach. If it could make it work, a broad coalition would bolster its ranks and could give it further appeal. But there remain serious concerns in the opposition including poor strategic thinking, complacency, a tendency towards authoritarianism, internal fractionalisation and registering their names with the ant-Bangladesh liberation camp.

Those of us, who are now sexagenarian or close to septuagenarian, can hark back those of days of our glorified Liberation War of 1971 to attain Bangladesh and many extolled movements during the pre-independence days which eventually culminated our war with the savage Pakistani rulers to acquire an independent and sovereign state for us; for our people. And that will remain ever fresh in our minds and hearts while we go for voting.

In fact, Dr. Kamal Hossain and his present buddies are now under the fullest control of anti-Bangladesh liberation force and their brutal confederates.  It is also miserable that Dr. Kamal’s compadres will now vote for the forthcoming national elections under the symbol of Sheaf of Paddy which belongs to the election symbol of anti-Bangladesh liberation force.

Dr. Kamal Hossain is a solitary wolf here! He is a flunkey of the genus of haws comprising the harriers here! Dr. Kamal Hossain and Dr. B. Chowdhury were hand and glove with each other for a very long time. But being impish in character, he has not bothered to throw away Dr. B. Chowdhury momently from his alliance métier. With the passage of time and when the voting date comes closer, more ugly and cruel pictures of them will uprise, as some political analysts in Bangladesh believe.

The parliamentary form of government is in existence in Bangladesh and the premier has to be an elected persona. Dr. Kamal will not contest in the upcoming national polls. So, if the regime changes through ballots under any circumstances, he will be lost away from the political scene or thrown away into the outfall at a far-off grime place by his own compadres. Even if he is made president of the country, he will have no power to plug any ill actions of his buddies as per our present constitution.

In fact, Dr. Kamal has been put into the present showcase of political panorama by the obnoxious nexus of the disdainful CIA-ISI outfit in collusion with the anti-Bangladesh liberation force to play funky punts at their hands for serving their savage and ugly interests only, not for Bangladesh and its people. So, Dr. Kamal led coalition is not a fine line, at all. As a matter of fact, it will be a dingy line for Bangladesh to further rapine it with more ferocities to foster taking back the country into the stopped dead state of Pakistani amours which we buried in 1971 through our glorious liberation war. So, the people of Bangladesh should be very careful about them  so that this flunky group can’t do any further colossal damage to the spirits of our glorified Liberation War of 1971!

-The End-

The writer is a senior citizen of Bangladesh, writes on politics, political and human-centred figures, current and international affairs. 



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