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Democracy at peril



THE elections to the 10th Jatiya Sangsad were held on January 5, with candidates belonging to the ruling Awami League and its allies having already been declared ‘elected’ unopposed in 153 of the total 300 seats. The elections were well and truly a one-sided affair as only the AL-led alliance and some independent candidates had fielded candidates.  How can we call it democratic where more than half of the seats were filled before the election day and where 52 per cent of the electorate had no role to play?
The Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance has rejected the election and thanked people for not taking part in the elections. Around 20 people have been killed at different places of the country and many others have been injured. The killing of 20 people in one day marks a serious law and order breakdown. But we are not taking it seriously because loss of life and limb seems to have been a normal fact during the recent political protests.
The constitution of the republic does not stipulate what how many voters need to cast their vote to make elections acceptable. The chief election commissioner says the percentage of people who cast their vote is very low. However, an adviser to the prime minister has claimed that 30-40 per cent of the voters cast their votes on January 5 while one of the BNP chairperson’s advisers put it at 4 per cent.
History shows that people of Bangladesh never accepted autocracy, elected or otherwise. People protested against the autocratic regime of HM Ershad and compelled him to step down. In the one-sided February 1996 elections, the voter turnout was more than 26 per cent but the government had to step down in the face of popular pressure.
Will democracy survive the single-party elections? Will the Awami League hold on to power for the next five years with the help of the politically illegitimate elections? The answers to these questions will depend on how prudently and strongly the opposition mobilise people against the farcical elections and the politically illegitimate government.
The Awami League is not willing to leave power and the BNP and Jamaat are not considerate enough to do peaceful protests and reach a compromise, rather they are engaged in a violent movement. People expect peace. They will not favour any atrocity by the opposition party.
The government and the opposition have to initiate a discussion to hold fair elections and resolve the crisis of democracy. If inclusive elections are not held with participation by all parties, the nation will face serious disorder that will destroy our economy and social security. We have good diplomatic and business relationship with the West which can be hampered too if we fail to practice democracy.
Atikul Islam
Dhaka




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