As the five year term of the present government under Sk. Hasina is set to complete its tenure in early January of 2019, the countdown to the holding of the eleventh Jatiyo Sangsad election seems have begun with the moves by different political parties, a section of the media and some known faces of civil society. Election in any country is a usual affair, held after completion of the term of the parliament or tenure of the President (in a presidential form of government). Elections may also be held even before the completion of the term if for some reason the incumbent government fails to function or the office of the President falls vacant for some unforeseen reason. In Bangladesh, India and Pakistan the scenario is completely different. In India, considered world’s largest democracy for a long time Indian National Congress (INC) was the dominant political party and as of 2015, it won majority in six out of 15 general elections since India’s independence in 1947 and has led the ruling coalition a further four times, heading the central government for 49 years.
In Pakistan election is a time for intrigue, conspiracy, military or judicial coup. The country which gained independence had 15 Prime Ministers since its birth in 1947 alongside India but none could complete their full term. They were either removed by a civil-military intrigue or a judicial coup. Only one parliament could complete its full term (2013). Though in the recent election Pakistan’s one time celebrated cricket captain Imran Khan has formed a government, Pakistan watcher’s are sceptical about completing his term. Imran is good in rhetoric, loves to play to the gallery and demonstrate cheap stunts. But how he will fare as a Prime Minister of Pakistan, a country torn apart by militancy and terrorism and buried under the debt of 92 billion US dollars only time can tell? Ironically in Pakistan, the Muslim League which was headed during its birth in 1947 by its founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah did never manage to win any election though the party was used to spearhead Jinnah’s ‘Two Nation Theory’ that created Pakistan.
After the brutal killing of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sk. Mujibur Rahman in Bangladesh on August 15, 1975 its politics stepped into the shoes of Pakistan’s forces of darkness and whenever an election approached it was all about conspiracy and intrigue. During General Zia’s time the terminology ‘media coup’ was coined when election results were grossly manipulated using the electronic media by the ruling party to take it in its favour. Ershad used the mechanism much more openly in the 1986 national election. Once Awami League, the party that led the country’s Liberation War was revived in early eighties the countries politics became polarised between Awami League and the ‘rest’. The ‘rest’ included the moderate left, the ultra left, moderate right, the extreme right, groups committed to militancy and terrorism, a large section of civil-military bureaucracy, a section of the media and big business houses along with a sizeable section of civil society members who on paper always claims that they are party neutral and the usual opposition political parties like BNP, Jamaat and some left oriented parties. In reality they will go to any length to stand against any thing that has to do with Bangladesh Awami League and they are generously helped by some foreign powers including Pakistan’s notorious military intelligence service ISI. Interestingly most of the ‘rest’ were either former beneficiaries of Awami League government or were involved with the Awami League politics before they fell out mostly because they failed to fulfil their personal gains. The first emergence of the ‘rest’ began in 1973 with the emergence of the JSD with breakaway factions of Awami League, Chhatra League and some disgruntled army officers. They opposed any steps taken by Bangladesh Awami League and Bangabandhu for the reconstruction of the war ravaged Bangladesh. Since then the ‘rest’ continued to get bigger and once Bangabandhu was assassinated new groups and political parties that were constitutionally banned because of their role during the Liberation War joined the ‘rest’. By the time Awami League was revived after the return of Bangabandhu’s daughter in 1981 the ‘rest’ became even stronger and heavier with a big civil military bureaucracy joining the bandwagon. Once General Zia floated his own political party BNP, the ‘rest’ aligned with him and his party as all shared common goal, opposing Bangladesh Awami League forming any government in the post Bangabandhu era. It was just courage, tenacity, farsightedness and leadership quality of Sk. Hasina that Awami League managed to form the government for the first time in 1996. But the ‘rest’ never left her or her party alone. Every time national election neared the ‘rest’ introduced new forms of intrigue, conspiracy and hypocrisy to stop Awami League from winning in the election.
The greatest hypocrisy against Awami League is the ‘India bogey’ ‘Islam in danger’ rhetoric. Post Ershad election of 1991 was won by BNP with covert understanding with the Jamaat in at least one hundred constituencies. In 1996 BNP formed open alliance with Jamaat and was supported strongly by the ‘rest’ and all tried to play unsuccessfully the ‘India’ and the ‘Islam in danger’ card. Though Sk. Hasina formed the government after winning the 1996 election BNP never allowed the government to function properly for next three years complaining that Begum Zia and her party was robbed of their election victory by the Election Commission. The 2001 election was won by BNP-Jamaat alliance with the support of the ‘rest’ but did their best to prolong their stay in power even after the five year tenure was over by manipulating the election system and the non-party Care Taker election time government which was incorporated in the Constitution through an amendment after the Magura and Dhaka-10 by-election circus enacted by the BNP led government. The misdeeds and misrule was so rampant during the 2001-06 rule of BNP led alliance it was evident that their chances of winning the next election was slim and the ‘rest’ became restless apprehending the formation of the government by Awami League in the next election. During this time a number of attempts were made to assassinate Sk. Hasina, the most deadly one being the grenade attack on her on August 21, 2004 in front of Awami League Office at Bangabandhu Avenue. 24 party workers were killed in the attack including Ivy Rahman, wife of the former President of Bangladesh late Zillur Rahman. The ‘rest’ did their best to help BNP retain the power, make a comeback and prevent Awami League winning the election. The formation of the ‘Joggyo Prarthi Andolon’ by the ‘rest’, in the month of September of 2006 is an example how far the ‘rest’ can go to stand against Awami League. Again it was the courage of Awami League President Sk. Hasina which prevented another farcical election to take place. In came a new Care Taker government under the leadership of Fakhruddin Ahmed with military backing. Constitutionally they should have held an election within ninety days but prolonged their stay for about two years till they were compelled by a popular student led movement to hold an election in the December of 2008 which Sk. Hasina led Awami League and allied parties won convincingly.
In 2012 the 13th amendment to the Constitution that facilitated the holding of the general election under a non-party Care Taker government was declared ultra-vires by the apex court of the country saying that in a democratic system not for a single moment should a government be run by any non-elected person. Only properly elected people’s representatives reserve the right to form a government. An observation to the verdict also said for next two elections a Care Taker government may be formed but such a system must first be endorsed by the national parliament. The observation also said such Care Taker government should preferably be formed only by people’s representative. However, the parliament did not endorse the observation. As per the Constitution the 10th election to the parliament was scheduled to be held in January of 2014. But BNP and its allies along with the ‘rest’ demanded that the election must be held under the scrapped and unconstitutional non-party Care Taker government. The ruling party refused to hold the election under an unconstitutional system. Then the hell broke loose when BNP-Jamaat axis declared a war against the common people. Arson, hurling petrol bomb on unarmed innocent people, burning of private and public property became an everyday affair. The entire country became a hostage to the goons of the BNP and Jamaat. Sk. Hasina as a good gesture invited the BNP to be a part of the election time government as it was still in the parliament but unfortunately they never took the chance and finally the election was held on 5th. January, 2014. The mayhem continued for about next one year but again the courage of Sk. Hasina prevailed.
Now the 11th parliament election is around the corner. The ‘rest’ as usual have become restless. Civil society members are having regular clandestine meetings and dinners. New alliance comprising of discredited and discarded politicians are formed. The usual foreign powers are working behind the scene. Some apprehend that recurrence of violence of 2013 and 14 may be again unleashed in next couple of months to put the party in power in a tight corner. It is the responsibility of the government to protect the life and property of common people of the country.Awami League needs to win the coming election to keep the pace of the development work of the country going. But it may not be an easy task. First it has to tackle the enemy within the party who are always busy in creating intra-party feud. It has to nominate candidates with clean image, who are popular in their constituency and in many places the chain of command of the party has broken down. This must immediately be restored. The party leaders and workers need to acknowledge that a unified Awami League is still invincible. Immediately a professional media team needs to be formed to promote all the development and pro-people works done by the current government. There will be challenges but all challenges needs to be met politically. Awami League must remember that now its President Sk. Hasina is its brand ambassador. It just needs to use the charisma of the brand ambassador properly without resorting to any unwarranted action. The nation is waiting for a transparent, neutral and inclusive election and the party that matters to the development of the country to come back to power again.
The writer is an analyst and a commentator