Next parliament election-an eye of a hurricane?

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Strong points in favor of present government are, continuously attaining high growth in economy, considerable rise in per capita income, etc.
GM Quader

Political situation in Bangladesh may still be termed as volatile. Parliamentary election is due sometimes end 2018 or early 2019. Initial preparations by political parties, discussions among political analysts are observed rampant. Ruling Awami League wants the coming election to be conducted as per existing provisions of the constitution, i.e., keeping the head of the government, government and parliament in tact during election. This was exactly done during 10th Parliamentary election held on January 5, 2014. The main opponent Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its alliance partners boycotted that election. They rejected the mentioned mode of election as introduced by AL led government in the 9th parliament by making amendment to the constitution. BNP alliance wants reintroduction of care take government or some other ‘election time government’ (which they termed in bangla as ‘sohayok sorker’) to assist conducting of a free and fair election. BNP has been expressing that they may not participate and wage a movement to stop conduct of similar election. All these have cast an uncertainty in holding of a free, fair and inclusive election.

Strong points in favor of present government are, continuously attaining high growth in economy, considerable rise in per capita income, improvement in Social Development indexes and fulfilling most Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets in time, noticeable infra-structural development etc.

Weak point as alleged is not so good in governance. Accusation of wide spread corruption, suppression and mismanagement are rampant.

As regards the strong side, opponents claim differently. They say, high growth rate or higher per capita income is just numerical figures to people. What people expect is the associated benefits. Higher growth generally creates more jobs. But, in Bangladesh as per governments’ own statistical data, higher growth fails to increase employment opportunity rather it showed a downward trend. Incremental rise in per capita income is accumulated to a very limited few and does not trickle down to people at large. Corresponding Statistical index shows that the unequal distribution of income is high and is on the rise. As regards improvement in social development indexes, opponents’ view is, those have been achieved through continuous work for a wider range of time period beyond AL’s term. Contributions of different Non-Government Organizations (NGO) played a considerable role too.

Infra-structural development and mega projects are considered by opponents as mismanaged and laden with huge corruption. They tend to claim the purpose of those is to facilitate extracting big money. In a recent publication of World Bank report, in relation to comparison of costs incurred at infrastructural development in different countries of the world, it is shown that Bangladesh has been by far the costliest. For building roads, bridges, flyovers etc. cost in Bangladesh is few times more compared to other countries. Opponents to government call mega projects as mega corruption and not for benefit of public. There have been numerous reports in different media citing credible sources of ever increasing money deposits in Swiss banks and in banks and financial institutions of different other countries including investment in properties through illegitimate means by Bangladeshi people. Leaked information from Panama Papers etc. revealed quite a few names of Bangladeshis believed to be involved in huge illegal money. These make the accusations made by opponents believable to many.

As regards weak side of performance that is lack of good governance, is being refuted by ruling party. They also claim situation cannot be improved by any new government. A considerable number of people tend to believe that too. AL led government almost completed ruling the country consecutively for two terms of five years each now. They are looking forward for the third term through the 11th parliamentary election. For a scarce resource country like Bangladesh, incumbency always impacts negatively on election.  No government can accommodate enough resources to contain expectations people hold individually or collectively. As such, frustration against sitting government builds fast.

All elections held after independence where important political parties participated, accepted as free, fair both locally and internationally resulted change of government.

Under the circumstance will the ruling alliance take the risk of allowing a free, fair, participatory election?  Many tend to doubt. People especially those in opponent fear manipulation will be done in election; ruling party will be declared winner, even though they may not be in reality.

Questions here are whether that will be possible under the circumstances which might prevail during election time; whether manipulated outcome will be acceptable internally and internationally.

Also concerns are expressed that, this possibly can end the democratic dispensation of governance. Concept of accountable and transparent government might suffer a deadly blow, resulting in absence of rule of law, uninterrupted corruption, mismanagement and deficiency in public welfare, safety and security. Stability in political arena may experience set back and risk of turmoil could aggravate. If dissidents are suppressed violent extremism or terrorism/militancy may rise.

In case environment is created to hold an election free, fair, participatory and present ruling alliance wins with peoples’ verdict, normalcy would prevail. But situation is such now; in case result goes against ruling alliance, which is a possibility, wide scale retribution against them may start resulting lawlessness and turmoil. If ruling alliance can somehow manage a win not so fair or without participation of major opponent alliance, there lies hazard of country being plunged deeper into darkness of conflict and uncertainty as already mentioned above.

Important issue now is not the election only but the conflicting circumstances surrounding it and the chaotic environment it may precipitate. Violent Turbulence which is being formed centering election needs to be neutralized at the earliest.

Creation of a neutral environment will be required and a definite time frame will have to be allowed for making a level playing field and also for simmering down and cooling of antagonism.  An all party or non-party government with or without present head of government could be options for creating a neutral ground. A minimum time period (as decided by mutual understanding between conflicting sides) should be allowed before election date for melting down the hostility. It is expected that interparty and intra-party polarization will take place during that period resulting in improvement of environment.

Non-party government without incumbent Prime Minister (PM) does not fall within purview of existing constitutional provisions. So, a broader consensus for constitutional amendment would be necessary for its adaptation.

A compromise proposal was forwarded by PM prior to January 5, 2014’ election on an ‘all party government with existing PM’. This with slight modification to suit the present context might serve as an ‘election time government’ within current constitution. With fair intention of existing head of government, this might assist creating a ‘level playing field’ for all contesting parties.

If all the parties involved give due priority to the interest of people and the future of the country, it is hoped that free, fair and participatory election would be possible and be held peacefully, following the above. There would not be any undesirable situation afterwards. Political stability and democratic advancement will hopefully continue undisturbed leading to peaceful coexistence and prosperity.

The writer is a former minister and a politician

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