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So much for a level playing field



THE ruling Awami League has maintained all along that the so-called all-party interim government of Sheikh Hasina will only focus on day-to-day functions of the state and act as party-neutral so as to create an environment conducive to free and fair, inclusive and thus acceptable elections to the tenth Jatiya Sangsad. One wonders if the signing of the Trade and Investment Cooperation Framework Agreement with the United States falls within the day-to-day functions of the state or if the continued arrest and detention of opposition leaders and activists on various charges, let alone repeated raids and attacks on their party offices and residences by law enforcers and/or ruling party goons, are party-neutral actions aimed at creating an environment conducive to free, fair and inclusive elections. In fact, there are many more examples suggesting that the so-called interim government is the AL-led government repackaged.
As revealed by Democracy International, the state-run Bangladesh Television continues to display significant levels of political bias in its news reports. According to a report published in New Age on Sunday, the international NGO found out that an overwhelming majority of statements made on BTV news bulletins in the three months between September 1 and November 30 concerning the opposition leader Khaleda Zia, her Bangladesh Nationalist Party and also the caretaker government were either negative or very negative. In contrast, the vast majority of statements about the prime minister Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League were either positive or very positive. Simply put, the BTV continues to be the partisan propaganda machine for the Awami League — so much for a level playing field. It is worth noting that, in the first three election cycles since the ouster of the autocratic regime of HM Ershad, the election-time caretaker governments did manage to give equal air time to both the Awami League and the BNP, and a fair share of air time to others contesting parties, which has thus far been missing. Also missing is any action from the commission to significantly reshuffle the administration so as to ensure that the AL-led government’s apparently partisan posting, promotion and transfer of bureaucrats cannot have its intended outcome.
The uninitiated and unsuspecting observer may well ask what the Election Commission has been doing to ensure a level playing field. After all, the commission is constitutionally empowered and ordained to conduct free and fair elections to parliament, with constitutionally guaranteed assistance from the executive authorities of the state. The answer to such a question could be that, in the prevailing order of things, there seems to have been a role reversal whereby the commission toes the line of the government, and not the other way around. Suffice to say, such a conclusion appears anything but unfounded, as the commission might argue.
The current Election Commission has hardly displayed the willingness to act independently. In fact, starting from the announcement of the election schedule, the commission has appeared to go by the not-so-covert AL plan to keep the BNP and its allies out of the elections by any means possible. For example, according to a report published in New Age on Saturday, six registered political parties, including three in the opposition alliance, refuted the commission’s claim that they had fielded any candidates or issued any nomination letters for the forthcoming general elections. Moreover, the commission has played a questionable role in registering the controversial Bangladesh Nationalist Front as a political party. It reportedly not only allowed the front repeated extensions on the deadline to meet the registration criteria but also rejected many more applicants that, even commission insiders say, were more eligible than the front.
Given the situation, it is hardly surprising that a majority of people do not believe that the country is not yet ready to have elections under a partisan government.




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