S A Malek
Some say democracy is non-existent in Bangladesh. We also do not claim that it has been well established. But the reality is that our country has an elected government based on a constitution. And the election was held on its basis despite the fact that the opposition tried to make the election questionable by its non-participation. The opposition not only refrained from participating in the polls but also unleashed terror and created an anarchic situation in the country. They made the situation so worse that the people have still been sufferings from its curse. Had the opposition simply boycotted the election, there could have been some ground for them. But the kind of violence they resorted to made it clear that even if BNP had participated in the election and won it there was little or thin chance for democracy to survive.
The charge brought against the ruling Awami League was that they came back to power through a dubious election. The pertinent question that arises: why did the opposition decide to keep away from election? Probably the reason was that they were uncertain about the victory.
In a democracy, any election leads to victory for one and defeat for the other. The fact about BNP and its party chief Begum Khaleda Zia is that they never accept defeat gracefully. If we go through the remarks of Begum Khaleda Zia immediately after the conclusion of election in which she suffered defeat, she always raised allegations of gross vote-rigging. There is no change in her attitude even now. The recently-held mayoral election in Sylhet goes to prove it. In the early hours at about 10 am on the election day the BNP candidate made allegations of gross irregularities and was found to virtually reject the result. But he accepted the result when his victory was ensured. In two others elections in Rajshahi and Barisal where their candidates were defeated by a wide margin the BNP took the same posture. If one recalls the remarks made by BNP and its chief, the reality would be clear to all. It will participate in all future elections if victory of BNP is ensured. This sort of mentality of BNP is probably the reason for negating the results of any election. When Begum Zia was in power, there were allegations of gross rigging in the election. Magura bye-election is one of the glaring examples. Even the Chief Election Commissioner was not allowed to enter Magura. The way her government forced the caretaker government led by President Yajuddin to follow their dictate went against the constitution and the result was the army-backed caretaker government in 2007. There were plenty of irregularities in all the elections when Begum Khaleda Zia was in power. As long this sort of attitude persists in Begum Zia and her cohorts, it would be really difficult to make the election results acceptable.
I never say the elections in Bangladesh had always been held in a perfect way. Probably in the present-day world, nowhere elections are held in a true democratic way i.e., election by the people, not even in US, or its arch rival Russia where incumbent Vladimir Putin won election for his second consecutive term in office with 77% of the vote. Let’s not forget to mention that in Pakistan recently cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan contested against former PM Nawaz Sharif following allegations of widespread vote-rigging. The reality today is that the result of an election is accepted if the percentage of irregularities is 20% or even more. Modern democracy probably maintains this standard. It differs from country to country. In Sweden, it is probably 5% although in Kenya- it is 53%.
The true practice of democracy in a country like Bangladesh is very difficult to attain as the two forces—pro-democratic and anti-democratic- are ideologically opposite to each other. Without the help of opposition political parties, the government alone can’t make democracy a success. Because of violent programme pursued by the main opposition, the prevailing political and cultural scenario is not conducive to democracy. Since the killing of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on 15th August 1975, the nation has been ruled for 21 years by those who made an unholy alliance with anti-democratic and anti-liberation forces. Being a partner in power, these forces got an opportunity to grow stronger both economically and politically. They didn’t even hesitate to use arms in politics. They talk loud about democracy but violence is the weapon that they use in reality.
What happened when Bangabandhu introduced parliamentary democracy on the basis of 1972 constitution and the 1973 general election after an armed struggle through which the country had to be liberated? It could not be sustained for more than three and half years. The enemies of independence and democracy created such anarchy in the country that democracy had to be curbed for sometimes. Similarly, when Sheikh Hasina has been advancing both democracy and development simultaneously, the reactionary forces have raised their ugly head to destroy both. Their demand is for holding a free and fair election. But, violence is their only weapon they wanted to use to win the election.
S A Malek is the former political adviser to the Prime Minister and Member of Parliament and General Secretary of Bangabandhu Parishad and Columnist