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PM’s disquieting claims

THE prime minister’s assertion on Monday that she was ‘happy that the people could exercise their franchise’ and ‘whatever turnout the election had was enough’ could create the impression that she may be in a state of denial. When, in the first place, 52 per cent of the voters were kept out of the electoral process, with 153 of 300 lawmakers in the tenth Jatiya Sangsad elected unopposed, and, according to even the most generous estimates, only 10-12 per cent of the rest cast their votes on Sunday, the talk of people having been able to ‘exercise their franchise’ could sound downright delusional. However, the prime minister is anything but in denial; she appears simply unwilling to even recognise the pervasive debate and discourse, worries and warnings about the political illegitimacy of the elections, at home and abroad.
In fact, given what she said and left unsaid during her news conference at her official Ganabhaban residence, it would perhaps be nothing short of a daydream to expect her to show some remorse, let alone regret and apologise, for the farce that her government presided over on Sunday. It would also be nothing short of a daydream to expect that the ruling Awami League would be forthcoming with a serious and sincere effort at engaging the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led opposition alliance in a dialogue towards a peaceful resolution of the ongoing political crisis, especially now that the prime minister made it clear on Monday that there would be no mid-term elections.
Disquietingly still, given the arrest of several BNP leaders in the capital Dhaka on Tuesday, tends to indicate that the ruling party would persist with its strong-arm tactics to force the opposition into submission. The AL leadership seems to have traced a direct correlation between the decelerating intensity of the opposition movement with its strategy of putting as many opposition leaders and activists behind bars as possible, and also keeping the leader of the opposition and BNP chairperson practically under house arrest. Hence, no matter how hard the prime minister tries to heap the blame on the opposition leader for the one-sided elections, the fact remains that the government made sure that the opposition alliance stayed away from the polls.
Whether the ruling party likes it or not, Sunday’s elections lack political legitimacy not just at home but also abroad. The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Commonwealth have also decried the non-participatory elections. The prime minister and her party may feel confident that the divergent and dissenting opinions at home can be suppressed through autocratic means. However, they need to realise that adoption of repressive measures would further antagonise the international community and the resultant diplomatic, and economic, pressure could send the country tottering. As such, they would be well-advised to not go down the path of autocracy and instead pave the way for inclusive elections to the next parliament as soon as possible under an election-time non-party administration; after all, the incumbents have proved beyond that, in Bangladesh, doubt free and fair polls cannot be held under a partisan government, at least not in a foreseeable future.

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