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08th-Jan-2014

Formality of unilaterally changed Constitution is no democracy

By MAINUL HOSEIN

We need not be told what is a democratic election. It is not all about observing formalities of any kind of Constitution. In the case of Bangladesh, the Constitution was changed unilaterally to suit the convenience of an unpopular government to remain in power.
The people of Bangladesh can rightly feel that they are being let down in their fight for democracy. As there cannot be voter less election so there cannot be democracy through controlled election.
Though the international community was highly critical of holding the election unilaterally it is beyond belief that it could so easily be disregarded. The election was completed as planned the day the Constitution was changed making way for unilateral election. Democracy was thus denied through a controlled election thrust on them defying all pleas for an inclusive election.
India's claim that it knows best what is good for this region cannot be the whole
truth in respect of all other countries of the region. It is certainly a failure of Indian policy that India is not seen as a trusted friend by many in the region. We, on our part, have been hoping all along of India's cooperation in building democracy and peace in Bangladesh because of its help in our liberation war. We are not sure if our faith is well founded.
If India believes that it can force  its ideas  on us about what is good  for us then it will  not take long to see how frightfully wrong India is. Through this fake election Sheikh Hasina's government has become weaker and not stronger for dealing with any crisis. To be sure she will confront new and more graver problems than the existing ones. Besides, the competence of a government cannot come from outside.
The wise men who planned and worked hard not to fail in implementing the blueprint for establishing a government with absolute power went about it under the pretext of bolstering democracy. But the method followed has been most shamefully undemocratic. The new election arrangement the government introduced by changing the Constitution has made free and fair election anything but impossible. It denied any opportunity to the opposition to win the election as because the election is to be held under the management of the sitting government.
The wise men needed some outside stimulation to be so brazen about bulldozing the election victory despite the disapproval as expressed by the UN, the United States and others including the European Union.
The BJP which is expected to come to power in India next has criticized the Congress government for sabotaging the election in Bangladesh.
The leader of the opposition Begum Khaleda Zia was kept confined during the whole election time. The leader of the third largest party, former President HM Ershad was taken to military hospital allegedly for medical treatment denying him free movement just because he declined to take part in the unacceptable election. He was refused outside access for the purpose of dividing his party by offering them ministries and parliamentary seats uncontested.
In the style of communist countries the election was held on 5th January only to reconfirm the pre-arranged one-sided victory for the government. The victory was guaranteed before the so-called election of 5th January by bagging 153 seats out 300 just by declaring them uncontested through distribution of seats among their own coalition partners.
In the    absence of the major opposition party BNP, the   election for the remaining 147 seats conducted as mere formality in the midst of boycott by the opposition and violence that ended in the death of 22 persons. Admittedly 148 poling stations had to be shuttered for reason of security.
By all accounts the voters' turn out in the election so held was the lowest ever.  Not a single vote was cast in many centers. The usual election time festive mood was totally absent. It was truly an election minus the people.
All earlier predictions were that in a free and fair election the Awami League government would sure to loose by a wide margin. But in the way the election was manipulated the government has won more than two-third seats in the parliament.
The government that wants to continue in power relying on outside help and denying people the voting right cannot be honest with any plan to remain democratic. As it has won the election against the wishes of it own people, so it will have to rule the country against the wishes of its own people. Winning an election against popular wish means fighting the people all the way. Such a situation does not bode well for peace and stability.
To those who hold out hopes that once the election is over both the major political parties will have no choice but to come to a compromise for holding a fresh election soon, we say they have no idea about the political complication involved.
In our view the fight is not just between the Awami League and the BNP, the real fight is over the identity of Bangladesh and who shall have the legitimacy to rule the country. There is the method of buying loyalty through corruption and such corruption must be protected. There are also elements who believe that they and not the people who won the liberation war and only they have the legitimacy to decide what is good for our people. So the crisis our people are facing is much deeper and a long term one. This may lead to a terrible situation like civil war raising issues not yet discussed.
But solution through a free and fair election is not the plan of the government and surely this is most worrying when democratic solution is not available constitutionally as an option.
No nation's identity can be decided from outside and nowhere a particular class or section can assume legitimacy  to govern people in this age of peoples' power. It has to be the people's decision who will be allowed to do politics in the country and which alliance with which party is acceptable to the people. Such a decision cannot be acceptable as dictated by any party.
Our appeal to all is that Bangladesh must not be let down in its struggle for democracy.