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Govt needs to reciprocate opposition gesture

THE statement by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party chairperson, Khaleda Zia, at a news conference in the capital Dhaka on Wednesday was unexpectedly temperate — in tone and tenor, text and subtext. It also marked a significant shift from the combative posture that the main opposition party and its allies had taken, to reject and resist the January 5 elections. According to a report published in New Age on Thursday, Khaleda did iterate her determination to carry forward the opposition movement to ‘restore democracy’ and ‘people’s franchise’ by overthrowing the ‘dangerous’ and ‘non-representative’ but simultaneously renewed her call ‘for immediate initiatives for a dialogue’ by the incumbents. Moreover, the conditions that she put forth for an atmosphere conducive to dialogues and a consensus, i.e. release of all political leaders and activists and withdrawal of false cases filed against them, end to persecution of alliance leaders and activists, scope for normal functioning of opposition offices, withdrawal of restrictions on peaceful and constitutional politics, freedom of expression by opening all media houses that have been closed, fall well within the norms and practices of democratic politics. Simply put, the opposition seems to have well and truly extended the olive branch to the Awami League-led ruling alliance.
The question now is how the ruling party will respond and/or if it will reciprocate the opposition’s reconciliatory gesture. At this point in time, the ruling political elite seem to be in an essentially vain euphoria over its supposed success in holding the elections on January 5. They seem to believe that, as Khaleda put it, the opposition has ‘lost’ the political battle centring the elections. Worse still, arrogance seems to have got better of the ruling alliance, so suggests the disdainful disregard with which it fast-tracked the oath-taking of the tenth parliament and of the new government even before the formal dissolution of the ninth parliament. The less said about the quality of the general elections to the tenth Jatiya Sangsad that the so-called interim government of Sheikh Hasina presided over. While 52 per cent of the electorate could not even cast vote, with 153 candidates having won unopposed, the polling for the remaining seats was marked by abysmally low voter turnout — between 10 and 12 per cent by generous independent estimates but roughly 40 per cent by official count. In other words, in no way were the elections representative and, thus, the tenth parliament has anything but political legitimacy.
It goes without saying that, as a renowned Western publication put it, the Awami League may have won the election but Bangladesh’s democratic political process has well and truly been set back. In such circumstances, the only redress lies in immediate resignation of the current government and dissolution of the tenth parliament, both of which lack political legitimacy, and holding of credible and contested elections under a non-partisan administration. To this end, now that the opposition has expressed its willingness to engage in dialogues, the ruling alliance needs to set the process in motion — the sooner, the better.

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