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14 December, 2018 00:00 00 AM

Genuine and credible election will ensure a vibrant democracy

In a democratic system, people are the main source of power. But in our society some extraneous elements have dominated the electoral politics
Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed
Genuine and credible election will ensure a vibrant democracy

Article 119 of the Bangladesh Constitution empowers the Election Commission to hold parliamentary elections. The Constitution gives the Commission 'reservoir of power' to ensure such elections (Afzal Hossain vs. Chief Election Commissioner, 45 DLR). Article 119 also empowers the Commission, according to the Appellate Division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court, to even “add to the statutory rules” -- an authority normally preserved for the legislature -- to ensure free and fair elections (Altaf Hussain vs. Abul Kashem, 45 DLR). Thus, the Election Commission is obliged not only to hold elections, but to hold genuine and credible elections.

In a democratic system, people are the main source of power. But in our society some extraneous elements have dominated the electoral politics. The tendency in electoral politics in this society is to disregard the issue and instead concentrate on “extraneous” elements to gain popular mandate. All political parties' priorities have been wrongly placed on some otherwise significant issues of Liberation War and religion.

More than forty years of our independence have elapsed but true democracy is still elusive. Abraham Lincoln's recipe for democracy in Bangladesh has been distorted to being “a government of the party, by the party and for the party.” Our politicians engaged in a diabolical frenzy to cling on to power have divided the nation into two camps to be at each others' throats. Within a few years of its inception, democracy in Bangladesh was in jeopardy. Multiparty democracy was abolished in favour of a single party system. Corruption was rampant. Abandoned industrial and commercial establishments were up for grabs.  Government appointed “administrators” took it as their own to loot the revenues and rise from rags to riches. The majority languished in abject poverty and famine. The media was brought under state control. And before the people could absorb these innovations, Bangabandhu was assassinated. Military coups were staged in rapid succession. The politicians played upon the whims of military dictators and democracy was banished into political exile.

The next general election is knocking at the door. Our political parties are now in a very combative mood. Whenever the general election approaches, after every five years, they flex their muscles to stage showdowns, jolting the nation. There is no exception this time, too. The same old drama is all around -- all in the name of democracy.  Their bone of contention is the polls-time government as there is deep suspicion among the political parties that a partisan government cannot hold a credible election as it always tries to influence the election outcome.

For the time being, the unprecedented protests have upset all the developing political games. All credit goes to the protestors who were successful amid huge difficulties in keeping the agitation above partisan politics. Now the ruling party and opposition BNP need to reassess their political strategies to honour the sentiment of the people, particularly the youth. People want an election in which all parties will participate, and the ruling party AL should create such an atmosphere for upholding democracy.

If the ruling party and BNP fail to correct themselves the people may take to the streets again, seeking a change in the current perverted political culture. And if the people do so, politics must go through a real change, reflecting what the mass people sincerely expect. In the present situation we have to find solutions to all issues that divide us, particularly the upcoming general election, through dialogue and democratic means. All parties and citizens have a sacred and collective responsibility to work for the restoration of peace and calm; let us rise above all partisan and other considerations. This is the only way for the survival of our freedom and democracy. Peace can only be achieved on the bedrock of intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind. If conflict or violence begins in the hearts and minds of the people it is in their hearts and minds that defense of peace should be built.

The political discussion last week was seething with that guiding contention. It underscored the futility of our political system where people are captive of politicians who are captives of their own contradiction. Two sides of the same coin, our leaders are one selfish lot in benevolent garb. Head they win, head they lose. In the ultimate tragedy, the people lose every time.

We should not be surprised or dismayed to see what is happening today in the political arena of Bangladesh. This does not dilute our brilliant and glorious past of party politics that brought us nationhood and gave us democracy. Thus, the turmoil that Bangladeshi political arena currently faces is ultimately a manifestation of these conflicts, which has been further magnified by the current electoral debates that have caught our attention and imagination. But, can a free, fair and participatory election provide an amicable solution to the deep divisions that have pushed us to this brink of madness? Can simply a change of political power be the magic bullet that moves us forward as a nation? Historical developments within societies carry imperative information on political order with grave mistrust and frictions. Bangladesh has not proved to be an exception.

Politics, political parties and majority rule more clearly than party leaders. They understand the value of tolerance, understanding, mutual trust, compromise and consensus to foster democracy, good governance and welfare of the people. All this we read in the literature on democracy and majority rule. Taking a consensus on how to hold the ensuing general elections in Bangladesh has become an urgent and immediate necessity. We are told by wiser minds that changing such a mindset will require changing our political culture. That is a tall order since cultures cannot be changed overnight; it needs mutation of the mind to be able to change the culture of politics. Can we wait that long?

And the chance of the present crop of leadership of the major two parties passing on the baton to a lot that will not be weighed down by the baggage of the past seems remote, in which case one can only see deliverance from the present state coming in the form of third party offering the voters a free choice. On the other hand, the chance of a third party surviving its gestation period is remote, given the pathological hatred the two major parties have displayed towards the idea of an alternative political party. We can only hope the two would think of the country and shed the past baggage.

 People now want change. Change is inevitable for us. If the existing trend of development is hampered, people will take the hand against any misdeed from any party. So, the enemy of the present development must be boycotted by people and people's mandate must be honored. Finally the politician for nation's and people's interest must come forward cordially, honestly and transparently.

The writer is a contributor to

The Independent



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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