Millennium Post

Bangla poll still an unfinished project

It’s become a tale of two battling begums, unfortunately. Bangladesh general elections, that were held in the midst of a vortex of violence that claimed over 21 lives, were turned into a farcical wrangle between the leading political parties in the country, with the ruling Awami League and the main opposition Bangladesh National Party caught in a deathly electoral combat. While the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League has scored a technical win in the Sunday elections that happened in the middle of an orchestrated opposition boycott and bloody hostility, the very legitimacy of the stunted polls is suspect, although for little fault of the prime minister herself. That Hasina refused to step down, upon BNP’s demands, to make way for a ‘neutral’ caretaker to oversee the general elections, can be attributed to the ruling party’s integral commitment to secularism in principle and to conduct free and fair polls in the country. Hasina’s repeated overtures of peace and reconciliation were summarily dismissed by BNP’s Khaleda Zia, as the political opposition, along with the fringe parties adhering to radical Islam, refused to cooperate and let the polls happen without the brutal episodes marring AL’s efforts. As a result, Bangladesh had been plunged in a tremendous cycle of violence, with the armed forces and opposition activists locked in a mortal embrace, launching relentless attacks, killing people indiscriminately and causing road blockades, thus bringing daily life to a grinding halt. In fact, the greatly diminished polls were tainted with several episodes of ruthless clashes between the fighting factions, resulting in several deaths. That the political parties, even the secular AL, systematically brought the law and order situation to an unforeseen low, and caused irreparable damage to the trust of the people, is a huge let down.

Of course, a large section of Bangladeshis preferred staying away from the polls, which became more about an ego exercise on the part of the two political drama queens, even at the expense of their citizen’s lives, than about keeping the democratic machinery of the nation in robust spirit. But the opposition’s ploy to hijack the elections and impose an Islamic fundamentalist structure to the fabric of the nation and the state apparatus must not be forgotten. That Sheikh Hasina is ready to embrace a second round of elections if the BNP-led opposition ended its inexorable assault on the heart of the nation, is indicative of the prime minister’s and her party’s inherent superiority – political, ideological as well as ethical – over the others. Nevertheless, since a greatly truncated election process, the pitiless bloodshed notwithstanding, cannot be taken to be the people’s verdict, and since the international fraternity will not accept such a half-baked poll result, perhaps the only way out is to conduct another round of the battle of the ballot. Obviously, the move is likely to be a huge drain on the public exchequer and even though this overpopulated country of 160 million cannot afford a rerun, it should ideally have one, if only in the interest of strengthening the pillars of democracy. But what must be remembered is that unless the Euro-American powers stop meddling into the affairs of our eastern neighbour and keep fanning the distinctly problematic aspirations of the political opportunists in the country, a free and fair poll would remain beyond reach of the ordinary voter.
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