Since independence in 1971, Bangladesh holds elections regularly, but it is suffering from corruption, lack of press freedom, enforced disappearances, violent protests, military rule, elected dictatorships, poorly working checks and balances, and many opposition boycotts. Some experts say whether this country is moving towards the similar path of some of the sub-Sahara countries’ model of elections – by influencing and maneuvering systems and subsystems of the state to win the elections?
The upcoming general elections seem to be a challenge for the long-term stability of Bangladesh and year 2018 has been a very crucial year as a lot of debate and discussion is going on concerning the upcoming national elections.
BNP who boycotted the 2014 general election has shown interest to participate in forthcoming general election even after barring Khaleda Zia to contest in the election.
Political parties must have the political will to give a stable election system. A middle way for fair and free election, acceptable to all parties must be sorted out to save the country from being more violent and extremist expansions.
The political parties should avoid the hate campaign against each other and they must start practice also inner-party democracy and should be attentive to peoples’ aspirations for a representative democratic system in which every voter- oppositions, minorities including Hindus could proudly participate in voting.
Due to political tensions, violent escalation would be detrimental to political stability and economic development in Bangladesh. Its progress made by the economy would be derailed, if political crisis continues for a more extended period.
Bangladesh has gone through the devastating experience of millions died during the liberation movement in 1971. It has also gone through long military rules, selection of parliament members in the name of elections and dynasty rules. More rigidity from both large parties could escalate unexpected violence, and it would not be surprised if politics goes out of the politicians? While the BNP claims to be the protector of Bangladeshi nationalism, the AL has tried to depict itself as the only player and guardian of Bangladesh’s liberation.
The Sixth National Parliamentary Elections held on 15th February 1996, and the Eleventh Elections held on of 5th January 2014 in Bangladesh created an environment of controversy and political upheaval in national politics. Awami league boycotted the 15 February 1996 election, and Bangladesh Nationalist Party won 300 of the 300 elected seats. Khaleda Zia re-elected as prime minister. The voters’ turnout was 21% in the election. In March 1996, ensuing rising political turmoil, the Parliament passed the thirteenth constitutional amendment to agree a neutral caretaker government conducts new parliamentary elections; former Chief Justice Muhammad Habibur Rahman was named Chief Advisor (equivalent to Prime Minister) in the interim government. New parliamentary elections were held in June 1996 and were won by the Awami League, and Sheikh Hasina became the Prime Minister.
As election of 15 February 1996 boycotted by the Awami League, the national parliamentary elections of 5 January 2014 were boycotted by Bangladesh Nationalist Party and other opposition parties.
As Khaleda’s BNP party did not participate in the 2014 elections, Awami League’s candidates declared victors in 154 of the 300 uncontested seats by avoidance in Bangladesh. And the remaining uncontested seats, the Jatiya Party led by Rowshan Ershad won 20; the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal won three, the Workers Party won two, and the Jatiya Party (Manju) won one. The voters’ turnout was 22% in the election; it means more than 50 percent of the voters have not voted to choose their representatives. The primary reason given by the BNP for not contesting the 2014 elections was the abrogation by the Awami League-led government in 2011 of a constitutional provision enacted in 1998 that allowed for a caretaker government to take the reins of the state in the run-up to the elections. The caretaker government was meant to ensure free and fair elections, this provision of the constitution scrapped by two-thirds majority government of the Awami League. In the name of the two-thirds majority, the scrapping of constitution provision of caretaker government by Awami League was the primary cause of an election boycott by the BNP.
During the election of 2014, at least 18 people died in election day violence after security forces fired on protesters and opposition activists torched over 100 voting centers. In total 21 people died on the day, and about 400 voting centers were disrupted. Before the election, the government restricted opposition broadcasting. In 2013, ruling Awami League shut down TV stations and detained a prominent newspaper editor. The government said the measure was necessary to curb violence, but opposition saw this as politically motivated. Because of violence and the opposition boycott voter turnout was 22%.
The United States, United Kingdom, European Union and the United Nations criticized the election.
At present, the opposition should not overestimate their street power, and the government should also not underestimate by undermining oppositions. Moreover, the constructive role of all national stakeholders including the judiciary could bring the distorted politics on the right track.
The prospects for political compromise should not be diminishing, as political battle outlines turn out to be continually more deep-rooted. It is about time to strengthen democratic institutions through a national consensus if failed Bangladesh could be the new long-lasting epicenter of violation and conflict in South Asia region and could end democratic institutions there?
*Hari Prasad Shrestha is a former expert associated with UNDP South Sudan and Sierra Leone