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Polls sans people’s participation, parliament sans legitimacy

THE election to the tenth Jatiya Sangsad on Sunday was never meant to be free and fair, especially after the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led opposition alliance had been practically forced out of the race and 153 candidates of the ruling coalition elected unopposed; the Awami League-led government had well and truly made it into a mere ritual. The ruling party had seemingly banked on its network to coerce or cajole people to turn up at the polling centres and thus create an impression that the polls had significant popular support. It did not work as a vast majority of voters chose to stay away; in most polling centres, the turnout was in the range of 10-12 per cent, that too, according to generous estimates. While widespread violence, which accounted for more than a dozen lives, could have been a major factor, pervasive dismay at the government’s not-so-subtle manoeuvrings to perpetuate control over state power, even at the cost of denying people their fundamental right to choose their representatives, may very well have significantly contributed to the abysmally low voter turnout.
Yet, the ruling party was seemingly in no mood to relent, with a junior minister even coming up with the preposterous claim that the ‘elections [are] acceptable despite poor turnout.’ Meanwhile, ruling party activists had reportedly resorted ballot stuffing at different centres, apparently to give the voter turnout some sort of ‘respectability’, so much so that six independent candidates, including an AL ‘rebel’, boycotted the elections  halfway into the polling, in protest at what they termed ‘rigging and forcible occupation of polling stations’. So much for the AL rhetoric about free and fair elections under a partisan government.
Now, whatever the official results and the turnout figure that the Election Commission announce, the tenth Jatiya Sangsad already stands bereft of any legitimacy — political and otherwise. With more than half of the electorate having been excluded from the electoral process even before the voting was held and a vast majority of the rest staying away from the polling stations on Sunday, the roll of ‘winners’ that the commission is to announce will be anything but representatives of the people and the government thus formed will not have any political legitimacy, either.
Of course, the ruling party may well choose to ignore the legitimacy issue and carry on with its intransigence. If it so happens, the consequence could be disastrous to the country, the people and, needless to add, the ruling party itself. Besides further escalation of the political crisis and social disorder within, the country could be exposed to the wrath of the international community and agencies, and even face isolation — economic, diplomatic and otherwise.
In such circumstance, if the ruling party has the slightest commitment to the democratic political process, it should immediately engage the opposition in a constructive dialogue towards holding inclusive general elections and thus restoring governance by people’s representatives. Meanwhile, the democratically-oriented sections of society need to mobilise public opinion and bring the popular pressure to bear upon the government so that it does.

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