People want to come out of uncomfortable barriers of indefinite future. Unfortunately, no exit is visible
G.M. Quader | theindependent | 18 August, 2018 |OP-ED
Political parties seem to be in some sort of dilemma as regards the ensuing 11th parliamentary election. Crux of the problem is whether all the important parties are going to participate in that election. More specifically, it is still unclear if Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) with or without its alliance partners will join the vote. Uncertainty has been created due to sharp division of opinion in the rank and file of BNP and both sides could come up with strong reasons in support of ‘going to’ or ‘not going to’ election. Situation has persuaded other parties to look for alternate preferences depending on ultimate outcome of BNP’s controversy. These options sometimes reveal contradictory positions. It has put all the parties to dilemma, at a time when election is knocking at the door.

As regards Jatiya Party (JP), it is not yet clear whether it would contest the national election in all the 300 constituencies on its own or join any greater alliance and nominate JP candidates in limited number of seats. JP’s version on this issue is, if all the important political parties participate in election it would join an alliance and put party contestants only in places agreed by partners. But, if any important political party/alliance boycotts election JP will put party contender in all 300 electorates.

It may be assumed that in case all important political parties join the election it would be contested by forming alliances. All parties would take shelter in any of two major alliances led by ruling Awami League (AL) or BNP. Naturally, parties including the leading ones would not be able to put their own candidates in all the constituencies. They would need to share seats with partners.

Options as pursued by JP may look logical from that point of view, but still there exists certain elements of dispute. Contesting in limited seats as a part of an alliance would surely deprive many able candidates. If JP cannot manage to obtain any alternative for those either in local governments or in other establishments, party may face setback. It is not sure how good a bargain would be possible for JP in respect of parliament seats or for those deprived. On the other hand, if it opts for going alone under circumstances stated earlier, many feel JP does not have capable candidate and/or organizational strength in all 300 constituencies. New capable aspirants are to be inducted in the party from elsewhere and organizational deficiencies are to be fulfilled. JP at present has been trying to do the same. But, how far this exercise could be fruitful is uncertain.

Participation in election or boycotting the same by BNP, which option will be good for AL; how election need to be handled in either cases- are dilemmas. If BNP take part in the election, outcome could have superior credibility. If AL wins in that, elected AL government will enjoy enhanced acceptability. But, it would not be logical to rule out possibility of AL facing a defeat. On the other hand, if BNP boycotts, it may be easier for AL to win. But, the result might have lesser acceptability leading to political unrest. Moreover, AL may have to consider expanding alliance etc. in case BNP participates. They may not otherwise. Situation is confusing; it is not easy to chalk out a definite strategy. AL might feel hanging in between two polarities.

From the various deliberations of BNP it is revealed that the leaders/workers/supporters at all level of the party have lost faith in existing election practice. They believe, whole election process is under complete control of party in power. No free and fair election could be possible under the existing circumstances. They are obsessed that Election Commission (EC) along with its supporting government machinery will render support in favour of ruling party. Many of them believe that results of election will be fixed by ruling party and will be declared accordingly irrespective of the actual outcome.

If that could be made possible, BNP feel there is no chance for them winning this election. Moreover, that could provide AL scope to choose opportunist elements among BNP contestants to be declared winner. Those MPs may be utilized to work in favour of AL. BNP understands two of their top leaders (Begum Khaleda Zia and Tarique Rahman) might not be able to participate in election. All these factors could lead to a situation where BNP would at best become a government sponsored opposition. They are afraid BNP might lose its effectiveness, dwindling towards a bleak future.

According to those, movement for a free and fair election will need to be continued till its success. In case, election is scheduled before demands are met it would be wise to boycott the same and continue struggle. Election so done might be considered controversial and could lack acceptability. They assume, widening gap between peoples’ expectation and receipt would continue and frustration would be mounting. This might provide impetus to BNPs movement. BNP activists emboldened with spontaneous sympathy and support of people will lead to success. Winning subsequent election will be natural.

Section in favour of participation says, ruling party AL should no more be allowed to score goal in an empty field. They argue in case BNP remain in contest it could be difficult for AL to manipulate election results. Moreover, they site example of 10th parliamentary election. This was boycotted by majority of political parties including BNP. More than half of the members of parliament were declared winners unopposed. BNP waged anti-government movement before and after.

But, AL led government so elected could continue and almost completed tenure. They allege, AL during this period used government machinery to oppress activists of BNP and its allies. Most of them are now facing various criminal charges, being harassed continuously and might have become demoralized. How can anybody be sure boycotting the election again will not have similar outcome? They doubt it might be difficult to keep workers active next time.

On the other hand if BNP joins election, leaders and workers of party will find reasons to be hopeful and active again. They could create effective resistance to any attempt of manipulation and make it noticeable to the people. It may so happen that they could thwart endeavor of forgery, if any, with the support of people. BNP may come out as winner. If not so, at least people will have more transparent view of irregular activities, if that happens. This could facilitate persuasion of action programs afterwards.

It is still unclear even to the political parties which position each would ultimately take. As such, it is difficult to speculate what could be the situation awaiting. People want to come out of these uncomfortable barriers of indefinite future. Unfortunately, no exit is visible.

The writer is a politician and

former minister