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Real expectations from ‘ornamental’ parliament

by Omar Khasru

The electorates consider the responsibility of voting for the preferred candidate, more often than not against the disliked contender and detested party, with real gravity. In every election since the return to parliamentary democracy in 1991, the ruling party has invariably lost and the incumbent administration was summarily thrown out of power. The voting process and practice became the invaluable and irreverent democratic way to show the collective discontent, displeasure and disapproval at the dismal government performance and inability to live up to the lofty election pledges.
The citizens, seminal and compelling king and queen solely for the election day once every five years, exercised precious and treasured voting right and expressed their strong and staunchly aggravated opinion to show the five year long rulers the door to remind of and penalize for the misrule, bad governance, dreadful performance and the inability and indifference to live up to election promises.
The chronology of events and dealings was that the electorates cleaned house by throwing out the party in power with disdain and voted in favour of the alternative party, the only other viable option, with renewed vigor, hope and high expectations. Within a few years they were customarily dejected, dismayed and disheartened by the other option and when the next election came, it was back to the previous party to express disdain and contempt for and to punish the latest ruling party.
Following the same procedure and chronology, the ruling Awami League and allies, voted to power overwhelmingly in the 2008 general elections with 80 plus per cent electorates casting ballot to convey extreme abhorrence for the 2001–2006 BNP-led four-party regime, would lose power in 2014. This is due to misdeeds, misrule and failing to live up to the dawn of a new day assurance or fulfill much of the major election pledges such as control over commodity price hike, effective action against corruption, poverty reduction and good governance.
Despite exalted and false claims, double talk, sham publicity and deceptive billboards, the glaring inability and failure of the government is surpassed only by tall talk, bluster and galling arrogance. Several objectives and reliable previews and opinion polls suggested that given the opportunity in a free and fair election, the ruling party would be ousted by the voters.
Sensing the likelihood, the ruling party, as is well known, amended the constitution though brute parliamentary majority and nullified the caretaker government provision that held acceptable elections under a nonpartisan and neutral government since 1996. With the 15th constitutional amendment in effect, the January 5 election was held under the party in power with the prime minister as the chief executive. With a free and fair election a distant possibility, the main opposition party and many other parties boycotted the farcical election.
This time around, due to 154 aspirants, including the speaker, getting elected uncontested, majority of the voters lost the fundamental right to vote. The Awami League regime dubiously, selfishly and uncaringly also deprived the voters of the rare and priceless one day of free democracy that happens every five years. With the outcome a foregone conclusion and no real options available, vast majority of voters stayed away from the sham election. Most of all, voters were outraged by the devious and manipulative nature of the process. By various reliable counts, only around 5 per cent or slightly more of the total 9.2 crore voters took the trouble to cast ballot.
One perverse advantage the current questionable parliament enjoys as a result of the election charade, apathy and nonparticipation of most voters is that there are no great expectations from it. The parliament with vice-like grip of the ruling Awami League and a ruling cum opposition concoction and muddle of Ershad’s Jatiyo Party can go about in the circus sideshow in their merry way with no care or concern for parliamentary norms. The people would rather eagerly wait for a free, fair and impartial election to elect a new parliament of their choice.
The editor of a leading English daily in a recent article asked the relevant question if the own-party, own-government, own-opposition and own-parliament is an ornamental Sangsad. This is a rhetorical question with a palpable resounding yes answer. What can people genuinely seek and expect from decorative venture of a purely ornamental institution? Not much really.
There was a similar decorative parliament after the February 1996 BNP guided parliamentary election. That parliament thankfully was a short lived one. Within a few weeks of the election that house formulated and passed the caretaker regime provision and disappeared. Another election was held after three months under the caretaker regime and Awami League returned to power after a long 21 year interval and in the wilderness.
Awami League unfortunately would not grant the electorate the right to vote and select their representatives in a free, fair, credible and impartial election to genuinely express their preference. It became increasingly clear after the farcical January 5 election with widespread vote rigging and ballot box stuffing that a free and fair election is not possible right now under party rule.
After the February 1996 BNP sponsored election, none of the members during the short lived parliament uttered the outrageous claim that they had the mandate to rule for five years and they were here to stay for the duration. The subdued and restrained members, with a clear sense of the reality, instead dutifully amended the constitution to include the caretaker provision and then resigned.
Unfortunately, after the distinct indication and utterance prior to the January 5 farcical election, by the prime minister and others that the 10th parliament election was a mere formality to meet the constitutional need and discussion to hold the 11th parliament election would be undertaken soon thereafter, some leaders and lawmakers are repeating the unsavory claim that they have been elected and given the mandate to rule for five years. They now plan to hold on to power for five years and not worry about another election anytime soon.   
Some ruling party leaders are demanding that BNP keep its mouth shut and let them rule in peace. Others are asserting a five-year stay away from discussions, dialogues and negotiation gap. There was one who calculated the five year interval into days and then demanded that BNP not make any demands for another election during so many days.
This is both confusing, perplexing and mindboggling. How a government in a working democracy can claim legitimacy, let alone mandate, tenure or validity, with a puny five percent voter participation and no takers at home and abroad is bewildering and totally incomprehensible or inconceivable.
There is one little but strong and strident expectation and demand from the current parliament. And that is for it to formulate a way out of the current morass, after genuine and sincere negotiation with BNP and its allies and find a way to hold a free, fair, credible, inclusive and participatory election. And sooner the better. It would really be gratuitous and exasperating if the existence and tenure of this make-believe parliament is prolonged and it keeps on with the charade too long.

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