BNP's policy flip flop and the country's fate
The election takes place after a certain interval in every democratic nation. Through election people express their opinion on the kind of government that will run the country and safeguard all of their interests. Thus, once elected, it is the responsibility of the elected leaders to ensure that they run the country in the most efficient way that would bring prosperity for the country.
The importance of election is so great that we could even experience the existence of an election in the most ancient democratic societies like the Greeks. Of course, through the development of ages, the pattern of electoral democracy has changed in different countries of the world. In the changing electoral democracy, the role of political parties is considered as an important determinant of ensuring stability in the country. Any rigid decision of any of the major political parties can destabilize the total political process.
Although Bangladesh started its journey through democracy, but the process was disrupted after three years through the killings of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. Later on, the country was ruled by the military dictators' until the 1990s, when General Ershad was overthrown through a mass upsurge. The democracy again reintroduced in 1991 and continued until 2006. Again, we experienced a chaotic situation in the country concerning the issue of the caretaker government in the late 2006.
Due to lack of consensus among the major political parties, an army backed caretaker government took over the state power and continued for two years. Again, democracy reintroduced in the country through the victory of the Awami League in the 2008 general election. After five years, the countrymen again witnessed a brutality in the country concerning the modalities of the government that would run the election.
Abolition of the caretaker was placed Al in a position from where they wanted the election to be held under the Sheikh Hasina Government while the Bangladesh Nationalist Party was not convinced to contest the election under Sheikh Hasina Government.
In the process of negotiation, the AL government puts forward a number of alternatives before the BNP and other political parties, including a proposal to form a coalition government for administering the election.Even, the BNP was offered to take the responsibility of Home Ministry of that government. But, they refused to reach to any agreement.
Rather, they remained firmed to boycott the election without a caretaker government. We have witnessed a series of negotiation meetings along with an initiative from the United Nations. Unfortunately, we did not witness any positive decision in that regard.
Lack of consensus among the two major political parties put the country in a fireplace where hundreds of people were killed by the supporters of the oppositions through throwing of acid and petrol bombs indiscriminately and setting fires on the vehicles in the name of the hartals.
That was one of the devastating experiences that the countrymen had ever witnessed. Despite all out efforts of the BNP led coalition to stop the election of the 10th Parliament, it was held where 153 parliament members were elected unopposed and the rest were elected contesting among candidates from the AL led grand alliances. Unopposed election in 153 constituencies puts the government in a wobbly situation when it concerns the credibility of the government.
After the election, the political situation has steadily become normal and continued until the mid of 2017. Thus, we were expecting that there would be a consensus among the political parties in favor of contesting elections. We were also hopeful during June 2017 when we heard positive statements from the BNP leaders who were indicating that the BNP would join the next election under any circumstances.
For instance, Begum Khaleda Zia in an Iftar Party on 14th of June vehemently stated that they would not let the AL to win the election in in an open field. Thus, she asked voters to cast their votes in favor of the BNP. Along with Khaleda Zia, several veteran BNP leaders including Barrister Moudud Ahmed, Major General (Rt.) Ruhul Alam Chowdhury, Dr. Khandakar Mosarraf Hossain and others in different programs indicated their willingness to contest the next election. They also took part in dialogue with the Election Commission that was held with all political parties.
Along with the BNP, the AL was also seem positive to reach to a consensus with the BNP as they do not want an election like 2014 in the country that would create negative image about the government. The countrymen were expecting that they would also welcome the decision of the BNP and do what is necessary to bring them in the electoral politics. Thus, we were expecting to take a fresh breath during the election time.
However, the situation has started to change after Begum Zia's recent visit to London. After returning back from London, Begum Zia has shown her determination not to go to the upcoming poll under Sheikh Hasina while the senior leaders of her party, including, Barrister Moudud Ahmed has time and again made it clear that they would go to polls under any circumstances.
But the sudden policy shift by the head of the party is creating confusion among the party supports. This has led the conscious and curious people of the country to find out the reasons of this policy shift.
If the BNP does stick to its decision of boycotting the election under Sheikh Hasina, what is going to be happened at the end of 2018 when the 11th Parliamentary election is scheduled to be held?
Their rigid stance would also make the AL to become firmer on their stance as well, meaning that there would not be any scope for them to negotiate for the sake of consensus as they would not reinstate the provision of the caretaker government in the Constitution. Under this situation, a pertinent question is: whether we are heading towards an environment where people will be killed throwing acid, petrol bombs and fire. The approach of killing people could not be the solution of a political problem in a democratic state.
Bangladesh has attained tremendous growth in its recent past. The continuation of the country's growth would depend on the stable political situation. We would like to believe that the BNP is not a violent political party. Thus, the election is the only means that could help them to get into power again. Their decision to boycott the next election would put them in such a situation where their existence would be questionable.
At the same time, AL is such a political party under whose leadership the country got its independence. Thus, we expect that they would also put their best effort to bring the BNP into the next parliamentary election. At the same time, the BNP should consider the fact that their policy flip-flop could bring devastating effect on the stability of the country.
The writer is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.
-------Pranab Kumar Panday