Karl Marx had said that everything in the world is in a state of motion, life changes, productive forces grow and old relations collapse. This oft-repeated remark of Marx may be true in most other cases, but this hardly holds well in case of politics in Bangladesh. Specially the relations between the ruling Awami League (AL) and its arch-rival BNP remain as hostile and bitter as ever. In fact, there is no positive change in the trend of their political strategy and action.
The bitter relation between AL and the BNP is always a hot issue in the country’s politics. Added to these now have been the ongoing elections to the Union Parishads (UPs). Rather, the sporadic violence, clashes and bloodshed have overshadowed the course of politics.
The first ever party-based elections to the country’s 4,275 UPs are being held in six phases from March to June. The second phase of the polls in 739 UPs were held on March 31 amid sporadic violence, clashes, irregularities and police firing resulting in at least 10 deaths at different places. The most tragic among these was the death of a school boy named Shuvo Kazi Srabon, who went to see the festivity of the elections at the Madhurchar Government Primary School polling station in Keraniganj, but returned home dead. He was reportedly hit along with several others by bullets fired by the supporters of a chairman candidate. Besides, a Dhaka University student was killed at Madaripur.
Earlier, as many as 22 people were killed over the first phase of the polls in 712 UPs. Nine of the 11 people killed on the first day of Union Parishad (UP) elections on March 23 reportedly lost their lives in firing by the law enforcers. The violence and bloodshed in the UP elections this year have taken place in larger scale than that in 2011 when the deaths over polls stood at 4 only. In the two phases of the UP elections on March 23 and March 31, some 32 people were killed and over 2000 injured in violence, clashes and police firing
In the first two phases of the elections, AL won a landslide victory while the BNP scored poor results. However, large number rebel candidates from AL and also from the BNP were elected. According to media reports, in the overall results, the AL is ahead of the opposition BNP not only in seats bagged but also in the percentage of votes received. An analysis of the results revealed that the reason behind the massive victory of AL candidates was an understanding of BNP with the ruling party candidates at the grassroots level. BNP candidates did not go for hard-line in contesting the elections to avoid facing new cases and harassment. The ruling party candidates took advantage of this.
The Jamaat opted for understanding over the UP election this year to sustain their existence. At many places known as strongholds of the Jamaat, the party did not contest the elections seriously. As a result, in many areas, the Jamaat candidates contested the polls only in name as independent candidates. But the party defeated the AL candidates where they took hard-line in the polls.
In the past also, the UP elections, held on non-party basis, were marred by violence and clashes. But never in the past the rivalry and violence over the UP polls were so intense and large scale as witnessed this time. Still the fact remains that the voters are casting their votes spontaneously and in large numbers. Specially, the turn out of female voters has been unbelievably high despite a sense of panic prevailing in some areas. This shows that people love to exercise their voting rights.
Elections are always treated as festivals in our country and the people join these with enthusiasm, joy and mood of festivity. But those are absent this time at some places due to bitter rivalry which is evident more between the official party candidates and the rebels. This is why most of the clashes are taking place between the AL nominees and AL rebel candidates. In view of this, some analysts maintain that the new system of party-based UP polls is contributing more to creating dissension in the party than to consolidating unity in it. They further say that efforts should be stepped up to check violence and irregularities in the remaining phases of the UP elections.
Meanwhile, the traditional political rivalry between the AL and the BNP is going on unabated. There is no let up in the war of words and attrition between the leaders of the two major parties. Addressing a gathering in the city organised to press the government for holding free, fair and credible national elections, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia on Thursday renewed her call upon the government to sit for dialogue to end the country’s ongoing political crisis, shunning the path of confrontation. She also said there is now no democracy in the country due to absence of a ‘people’s government and good governance. All the institutions of the country have been destroyed, anarchy is prevailing everywhere, law and order situation deteriorated and there is no security of anybody, she alleged.
Khaleda’s call for dialogue is seen by many as part of the political rhetoric as it came a few days after her assertion that the next elections will be held without Sheikh Hasina. This remark stirred a controversy and reacting sharply to it Sheikh Hasina said Khaleda is hatching a conspiracy again. She wanted to know “What does Khaleda mean by election without Hasina? Is she planning to kill me by doing something like August 21 grenade attack again?” Under the present constitutional framework, the next election has to be held under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina unless the Constitution is amended. Then how does Khaleda expect elections to be held without Hasina is a big question. This issue is likely to continue as the main obstacle to any political understanding between the AL and the BNP and even to a dialogue between the two sides.
Khaleda Zia finds everything wrong with the AL and Sheikh Hasina. But the world does not necessarily go with her. According to a new poll released on Wednesday by the International Republican Institute’s Centre for Insights in Survey Research “Seventy-three per cent of Bangladeshis feel their country is going in the right direction; a nine percentage point increase since November 2015 and a 38 point increase over the last two years. Overall, 83 per cent of respondents said security conditions in Bangladesh were very good or somewhat good and 77 per cent said they feel the country is politically stable. Respondents were optimistic about the country’s future, including 72 per cent who believe their personal economic situation will improve in the coming year, and 65 per cent who believe the country is becoming more politically stable.”
The IRI observation largely contradicts the way Khaleda Zia evaluates the performances of the government of Sheikh Hasina. And needless to say, IRI is an independent international body, not in any way linked to the AL.
The writer is the advisory editor of daily sun. He can be reached at