Bangladesh needs a political future in which no mainstream parties are attached to terrorism

Normally I would not comment publicly on Bangladeshi politics for the simple reason that I am an outsider. As it happens though, having spent seven years here – off and on – since 2006, I have grown particularly fond of Bangladesh and its people, and the quirks of both.

The impasse that led to the last Emergency in 2006 was quite an education for me in the politics of this country. To watch a comparable impasse play out again, though with so far a different outcome, has been fascinating to watch. I am confounded, however, by the reaction of large segments of the public and the punditry.

victim-of-an-arson-attackIt is entirely understandable that BNP supporters are full of venomous condemnation of the elections that just transpired, and that AL supporters are full of self-satisfied mirth, even if some of them have the grace or smarts not to gloat openly.

What is perplexing is that a swathe of people who are not hard-core supporters of either party, the so-called swing voters along with a set of non-partisan commentators, seem to be enjoying blaming the government for somehow staging and pulling off what they regard as a sham election.

1555399_199002496956283_443567128_nThe Awami League has, in cricketing terms, played a straight bat. Everything the BNP has bowled up has been blocked or flicked to the boundary with ease. The BNP had only one kind of bowling – concede to our demands for a caretaker government, or we will bring the country to its knees.

The AL imperiously refused to concede this demand, out-politicked the BNP at every turn, and, despite enormous violence by BNP’s leading ally, eventually held the election, leaving the BNP bereft. The BNP had no strategy beyond a stubborn demand, no Plan B, and as a consequence finds itself excluded from parliament.

may-5-2013-dhaka-bangladesh-police-set-fire-65825So why now is AL cast as the villain of the piece? It seems there is a concerted campaign to paint the election as a farce. However, if it was a farce, it was because the BNP refused to present candidates – not because the AL had the temerity to ignore the strident BNP demands.

Even stranger is the eagerness of notable sections of Bangladeshi intellectuals and the international press to argue that a new election is required so that the BNP can recuperate its position. Yet I cannot think of any instance in developed democracies where the disastrous and self-defeating policies of any party is rewarded with fresh polls, let alone an outpouring of sympathy from local intelligentsia or foreign diplomacy.

I don’t wish to sound like an AL apologist, heaven forbid! There have been scandals aplenty during its tenure (though even that kind of corruption is not unique to them). There is also a tendency towards authoritarianism, which also makes the main opposition’s self-implosion a concern.

But how is it AL’s fault that BNP has been such a miserable failure? Why should AL give BNP voters a second chance? Why don’t BNP voters force their party to adopt better policies or start finding a new horse to back?

bus-torched-2-wbBNP had stuck to the demands of the caretaker government, which was a total aberration for a place that, in all other aspects, tries to follow the Westminster system. BNP supporters have made much of the fact that allegedly the polls were heavily rigged.

In truth, all independent observers have placed turnout estimates far closer to that of the Election Commission than to the claims of BNP. There may be a case to be made for irregularities or even the EC being too compliant to the party in power. There are definitely grounds for devising a better election-time administration that both will accept.

But given that BNP’s only contribution to the pre-electoral process was to boycott the election and encourage violence among its allies, they are hardly blameless for the situation.

425779_333443116754937_1826703511_nThe most disturbing aspect of the election from my point of view was the escalation and stridency of the rhetoric of the BNP, which in many respects advocated violence as the only solution to the impasse.

This nexus between violence and rhetoric is one of the major points of difference between the two parties. I’m not saying that the AL does not use violence, but I can find no evidence of AL spokespeople talking of “civil war.”

The AL too has used hard programs when it was in opposition. But there is such a world of difference between people killed during political clashes in designated places versus commuters burned in their buses.

What I find appalling and what has compelled me to write this piece, is the degree to which BNP seems to be given a free pass by so many – intellectuals and citizens – for the enormous and unique sort of violence it has wreaked on the people in the name of political programs.

The fact that over 500 people have been killed over the election, mostly it seems at the hand of Jamaat-Shibir, should not be glossed over. To emphasise a rush to fresh polls is in fact to minimise the violence that marred much of last year.

Stop-Politics-5-660x500I have read in the American press that the BNP-Jamaat coalition is a tactical alliance. Why is a tactical alliance okay but an ideological one not? As I write this piece, the hartals and blockades have been cancelled and the streets of Dhaka have returned to their normal state of chaos.

It is as if nothing has happened. The resilience of the people has reasserted itself and life returns to something approaching normality. Will it last? Will fresh polls alone solve everything? Will Hindus be safe in a Bangladesh ruled by a BNP more deeply obligated to ever more aggressive Islamists?

PoliticsThe emerging evidence seems to suggest that the folly of their stance has penetrated BNP thinking. Khaleda Zia is still demanding a fresh election but with a much softer agenda, but the fact that India and China and others have endorsed Sheikh Hasina as the new prime minister makes the possibility of a fresh election remote.

Bangladesh needs a durable solution to democratic transitions for sure. But it also needs a political future in which no mainstream parties are attached to terrorism.

To conclude on an optimistic note, it is possible that the electoral suicide of the BNP has created the opportunity for a new political paradigm to emerge in Bangladesh, one not based on dynastic politics or corruption. One certainly hopes so.


JANUARY 22, 2014


About Ehsan Abdullah

An aware citizen..
This entry was posted in CHALLENGES, CURRENT ISSUES, DEFENCE & SECURITY, IDENTITY & PATRIOTISM, POLITICS - GOVERNANCE, RELIGION & STATE, RESPONSIBLE CITIZEN & DUTY, SOCIETY, SOCIO-ECONOMY -- Inequality, Poverty, Distribution & Poverty and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. ehsannewyork says:

    Excellent Observation from a genuine impartial point of view. If you have interest in our quite interesting and exciting democracy, you should also research the root causes of 1/11 in 2006, which created a national security issue, and challenged our stability and sovereignty while reversing our democratic polity !! Non State actors not necessarily upholding the interest of Bangladesh but powers beyond were being pushed into the control rooms of our country, and all our known elected leaders, the representative of our will were being systematically eradicated, The so called “minus two formula took shape”, I can understand our elected representatives are corrupt, inept and stupid, but they are our, no one has any right to clean our house without our permission, that exactly was being carried out.. It was lots of good fortune that people woke up in time, otherwise God only knows where we would have been standing today. Under those circumstances, given a very clear threat which emerged due to the “CARETAKER GOVERNMENT” System, the loopholes had the potential to undermine our sovereignty, not the government, but the Supreme Court gave a verdict terming that system illegal, and asked the parties to mutually create the interim period govt in the parliament. And since then BNP only had one demand, which was to re install that potentially deadly system, instead of sitting with the govt and mutually solving that issue, they went about creating mass anarchy, I must admit, Awami League consistently asked BNP to join the parliament and talk about it, most recent being only 2 months ago, when Sheikh Hasina called on Khaleda Zia, we all saw what happened. These pundit and confused people questioning this election, it amazes me at the lack of there basic understanding of how state organs operate, lets say Awami League did not hold the polls, then what? it would be a mess !! There would have been a constitutional vacancy, can you imagine, our bureaucracy, our judiciary, everything would go haywire, they would all start operating independently, creating an absolute state of chaos, and let then what would have been the chance for BNP/Jamaat to sit and talk??? Which apparently they avoided at every cost during normal times. And worst of all, I cannot even comprehend the state of law and order, we saw with an elected constitutional govt, how BNP/Jamaat created almost a state of war, burning people alive, innocent civilians(such gruesome behavior was never seen in Bangladesh before), we saw how our policemen were being targeted, fish plates uprooted from railway tracks, creating mayhem specially targeted towards amputating our leading exports, Dhaka-Chittagong Highway was blocked, and these things were being carried out with impunity while we had a govt directing and controlling our law enforcement agencies, imagine a constitutional vacancy !!! Police would have not even come out from the stations, either out of slack or out of sheer fear of being labelled partisan towards one or another party, not knowing who would come to power next and extract revenge… So it really is quite appalling how these so called pundits are question the legitimacy of the 10th Parliamentary election !! Its questioning the legitimacy of our constitution, which is far far more holy and important then any party !!!! Anyways, It was great write up, and as I mentioned if you look into the situations leading up to the formation of the caretaker system in 1996 till revoking it in 2010, then you will find a clear pattern of what is going on today and who is in the right side of history, I must admit it is quite exciting.. Cheers ..


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