No sure cure from only inclusive elections
The prescription of inclusive election has been touted for long as the sure cure for all ills in Bangladesh. But on careful examination, it would be found as hardly the magic potion to restore health or vitality to our political system to which the country’s major problems can be traced. Interestingly enough some Western countries are also of the same opinion : they also see the ability to successfully organize and hold such a national election including the country’s main political parties is the key to mitigating all the woes this country faces at the moment.
But is this not a too simplistic solution extended for an otherwise complex problem ? Ever since the fall of the alleged autocratic governance of former President General Ershad in the late eighties, Bangladesh held such an election at least four times that led to four elected governments headed by the two main political parties taking over the governance of the country. But every time after holding such an election political stability gradually broke down to cause all kinds of sufferings to the country ; especially its economic march forward was severely disrupted by the lack of political stability. So, it would be wrong to either believe or to advise that this country’s turn around for the better in all respects and on a longer term basis essentially involves paving the ground for holding another national elections that can be credited as truly inclusive.
Indeed, the challenge is hardly the holding of such an election. The challenge really is deep cleansing or reforming the country’s political culture, the political institutions or the political parties, empowering and strengthening vital institutions which can function reasonably effectively as independent ones not burdened by the government’ control of them.
The main political parties or forces got together and worked for the ouster of the alleged autocratic government of Ershad. Conspicuously, they signed an agreement between them after the fall of Ershad to establish genuine democracy in the country. To that end they took a vow through an open declaration in writing to work always for holding free and fair elections, to provide utmost media freedom, to abolish all laws seen as repugnant to basic human rights and the Constitution of Bangladesh. They made a commitment through that declaration to establish not the trappings of a democratic system but real democracy meaning effective separation of powers between the executive, legislature and judiciary, recognized the importance of parliament as the apex democratic institution and, thus, to keep it functioning properly as it should be.
But what things the political parties or forces did every time on going to power from the nineties were seen as contrary to that declaration in both letters and spirit. The parties in the post Ershad period devised the safety valve of the caretaker government to hold elections impartially through it to avoid charges of partisanship during the national elections and election rigging. But under both terms of the BNP in power after the fall of Ershad, attempts were clearly discernible that the government or the ruling party of the day tried to influence the formation of the caretaker government to be able to be in an advantageous position during the polling. Under the last government of the BNP charges were credibly made that the government influenced Election Commission was engaged in making lists of false voters. They would be used for voting in the national elections.
The opposition Awami League (AL) burst into a riotous mood over these and other issues on such perceived grounds of intention to rig elections and political stability was lost for a long time. After winning the elections with a massive mandate in 2009, the AL with its more than two thirds majority in parliament used that power to make null and void the system of forming a caretaker government to preside over national elections. Though the AL had a legal right to go for the constitutional amendment as it enjoyed an overwhelming majority in parliament, the move nonetheless gave birth to the notion that the party would utilize the opportunity to hold elections under an incumbent government to advance its objective of going to power afresh through manipulating and rigging elections. Thus, the BNP was given a major political issue and based on that it waged a movement in 2013 the effects of which were traumatic for the country’s economy and national life to say the least.
Thus, it should be clear that for long lasting political stability in the country, its major political forces must be prepared to shed their hypocrisy forever. This attitude to cling on to power even after the end of their terms by various manipulative activities, only perceived or real, must be given up as a precondition for the attainment of longer term political stability. Needless to say, this mentality of perpetuating in power on winning elections is very undemocratic and this instinct must be eliminated from the political system to help in the establishment of lasting stability. President Ershad was deposed on grounds of running an autocratic order. Logically speaking, his successors should have given proofs of their intention to replace the autocratic system with a democratic one. But ironically, the country has witnessed the opposite in large measures. Separation of the executive from the judiciary is the hallmark of a truly democratic system. But both the BNP and the AL are accused for introducing the culture of appointing their loyalists in the judiciary at all levels. The judiciary is the last resort for all those seeking redress from injustice and even tyrannies of governments. The Indian democracy, for instance, has many imperfections. But the average citizen in that country remains assured that he/she on approachiong a court particularly a higher one, will get justice actually dispensed to him or her. Therefore, outbreak of violence be it at individual or collective levels, are contained in that country from this assurance that justice may actually be obtained.
But in Bangladesh, accusations have been made that the inclination to appoint politically loyal persons in the judiciary is keeping the prospects open for the government to interfere in the affairs of the judiciary at different levels. The sense of being denied justice can cause considerable political and social ferments of the violent type rocking a country’s stability and we have seen a lot of that in the last two decades.
The last caretaker government prepared an ordinance designed to close the gate for all times to politically motivated appointments in the judiciary particularly in the higher judiciary. Unfortunately, this ordinance was not considered for adoption by the parliament that convened after the exit of the caretaker government.It is observed that the BNP in its first term in the nineties and more so in the second term initiated and stepped up the process respectively of appointing its favourites in the judiciary.
The caretaker government also left an ordinance to be made into law that could turn the police force into an organaization delinked from the government’s influence. But that ordinance too was not adopted by the elected body of the parliament. Both the two main parties are accused also for making many officials in the civil services impotent ones as officers on special duty (OSDs) without specific assignments to put in their place party loyalists. Such politicization of the services is considered as counteracting against good governance and public interests.