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It’s a question of survival for democratic political process

THE elections to the 10th Jatiya Sangsad, which were held Sunday amidst boycott by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led opposition alliance, widespread violence and loss of lives and limbs, abysmally low voter turnout, and blatant electoral manipulations and malpractices, seem to signify anything but a ‘triumph for democracy’ as the ruling Awami League would like people to believe. While even the most generous independent estimates put the turnout at 10-12 per cent, the ruling party, with no mean help from the kowtowing Election Commission, has sought to create the impression that it was in the range of 40-45 per cent. Even if, for argument’s sake, the ruling party’s claim is true, it means that three-fourths or more of the electorate did not or could not exercise their constitutionally-guaranteed right to adult franchise, including 52 per cent of the total voters who had seen 153 seats distributed among ruling alliance candidates without a single vote cast. As such, what Sunday’s elections have actually produced is a parliament that is bereft of any political legitimacy whatsoever and will lead to a government that will have no political legitimacy either. Moreover, in satiating its inherent grab-all intent and impulse, both in the run-up to and during Sunday’s elections, the Awami League resorted to electoral practices that essentially defined the military and pseudo-civilian governments and what people would have thought had been consigned to history. In sum, the elections to the 10th Jatiya Sangsad may have landed a crippling blow to the people’s general aspiration for democratisation of the state and society, and also to the democratic political process.
Disquietingly still, if the general tone and tenor of the prime minister’s news conference on Monday were any indicators, the ruling party appears intent on clinging on to state power regardless of the lack of political legitimacy of the 10th Jatiya Sangsad and the forthcoming government. In fact, the prime minister suggested that she would hold her ground notwithstanding the legitimacy issue and whatever pressure—diplomatic, economic or otherwise—that came her way from within the country and beyond. In other words, in all likelihood, the ruling party could become increasingly authoritarian in the days to come and resort to repressive measures with exceeding ferocity and frequency, thereby pushing the political crisis to a point of no return. While it remains to be seen how the opposition alliance reacts, it is safe to assume that the political violence could become more pervasive and intense in the foreseeable future.
That said, it needs to be pointed out that it no longer is just a battle between the governing and non-governing elites, political or otherwise; it has now become a question of survival for the democratic political process in the country. That is precisely why the democratically-oriented and rights-conscious sections of society need to step forward, mobilise public opinion and, if need be, forge a democratic movement so as to force the ruling party into initiating a process to have contested and credible, free and fair elections for a parliament and subsequently a government that have political legitimacy.

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