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Still time to scrap farcical polls

THE prime minister’s televised address to the nation on Thursday, as part of her election campaign as president of the ruling Awami League, seems to be premised on certain propositions — e.g. that people will cast their votes on January 5 ‘without fear’, that they will elect ‘candidates of their choice’, and that the elections to the tenth Jatiya Sangsad will be held under an ‘independent and strong Election Commission’ — that simply border on the absurd. Since there is hardly any reason to think that she is not aware of the reality on the ground, the obvious conclusion that the saner minds in society are likely to arrive at is that her speech was essentially meant to be a cruel joke, just as the forthcoming general election is designed to be a charade aimed at retaining her party’s control over state power.
With the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led opposition alliance already observing a countrywide blockade of rail, road and waterways, which has been marked especially by arson attacks on public transport and explosion of crude bombs in public spaces, and set to enforce a 48-hour countrywide hartal, which is highly likely to see more of such violence, those who will eventually turn out to vote will cast their vote without anything but fear. Moreover, with the opposition alliance forced to boycott the elections, their choice of candidates has been limited to essentially contestants from the ruling party and its allies, albeit of different statuses — loyalists, and so-called rebels and thus independents. Besides, the incumbents have also made sure that more than half of the voters do not have to make the choice even by having 153 candidates already elected unopposed.
Suffice to say, the incumbents have been able to push the situation to such a pass with no little help from what the prime minister termed an ‘independent and strong Election Commission.’ While Bangladesh has had its fair share of election commissions and commissioners shamelessly loyal to the party and/or alliance in power, the current commission has taken cronyism and sycophancy to a new high or low or whichever way one would like to put it.
With an electoral landslide virtually guaranteed, it was only expected that the prime minister would hardly bother to tie the loose ends in her campaign speech; she did not. Her speech was high on airy-fairy plans and programmes, and low on any review of or retrospection on the electoral pledges that the AL-led government did not or could not keep. Hence, there were no mentions of the corruption scandals, share market scams, market volatility, etc.
The prime minister’s speech was also rich in vilification and demonisation of the opposition camp, especially the BNP and its chairperson. True to the script, she sought to heap the blame on the opposition for the ongoing political impasse and concomitant social disorder. However, such vilification and recrimination are unlikely to have any traction in public mind; it is now clear that her party actually never wanted the opposition to participate in the forthcoming elections and that her overtures to engage the opposition in a constructive dialogue to resolve the impasse was anything but sincere or serious.
In any case, no matter how hard the incumbents try to take the moral high ground, the farcical elections that they appear so adamant to hold will strip them of the last vestige of legitimacy — political and social. Hence, it is imperative that the incumbents make an immediate course correction; cancellation of the January 5 polls would be a good start to this end. 

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