Bangladesh’s Right to Vote in Despair

Maskwaith Ahsan

Bangladesh is awaiting general elections with an uncertain freedom to vote as the main concern. The party in power Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) is serving its second term after 2014 elections which largely lacked credibility as over half the members of the parliament got elected uncontested. An election under the rule of the party in power cannot be credible; that’s well proven in Bangladesh where the general elections of 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2008 were the only four held under caretaker governments. All others were held under the control of the ruling party and could not be impartial, just and credible.

In 1996 the then opposition party and the present party in power BAL had this same argument that in Bangladesh credible elections are not possible without a caretaker setup. Being a reasonable one, BAL’s demand for an interim government received public support and approval.

In 2006 when general elections were due, the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) tried to cling to the power by forming a favorable caretaker setup. Only after mediation from international bodies and the installation of an army-backed new caretaker government could credible elections take place in 2008; they were won by BAL. But after coming to power, BAL got rid of this caretaker system ahead of 2014 elections. And the outcome was a non-credible and unacceptable election which led the beginning of people losing their right to vote.

Now, the ruling BAL once again appears adamant to have another one-sided election. This two-party system in Bangladesh is inherently predisposed towards a one-party dictatorship, with the clash between BNP and BAL proving to be a wild game of thrones to hold state power at any cost. In its ruthless pursuit to install a fascist regime, the Khaleda Zia-led BNP used extra-judicial killing as a means to that end during its 2001-2006 tenure. The Sheikh Hasina-led BAL has been using the same tactic to demonstrate absolute power without remorse.

Both the political parties, guilty of “crimes against humanity”, have tried to prove that “arms are the only source of power.” It clearly shows that they are not ready to respect “people’s right to vote”. Both Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia have traumatic pasts; the former lost her father and the later her husband in assassinations. Both of them received justice, but none of them could move forward to think about providing justice to the common man. Following in the footsteps of tribal primitiveness both remain busy with their business of revenge. Hundreds have been killed in bloody clashes between the BNP and BAL party cadres. The entire nation has become a helpless witness to this endless “body for a body” war. When BNP was in power, people had to listen to one-sided stories of how it was victimized by BAL and when BAL came to power, the same people were forced to listen to how the party was victimized by BNP. In this tit-for-tat, people hardly have the space or voice to raise the issue of “extra-judicial” killing of commoners.

Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina have both used state power and elite force to silence critics, giving law enforcement agencies a taste of human blood. When ordinary people have to constantly live under threats by Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs) and ferocious political cadres, it’s very difficult to demand the right to vote freely. The ruling BAL seems more successful than BNP in cultivating the fruits of fear and in continuing with its autocracy.

As there is no right to vote freely, there is no democracy in Bangladesh. As there is no freedom of expression, there is no justice in Bangladesh. It’s as if the ruling BAL has become the owner of Bangladesh. Only the supporters of BAL are blessed and only they can taste ownership of the country, while the rest have to contend with the life of a second class citizen.

Reality is definitely looking stranger than fiction. The way China under its one-party rule is set to launch its own moons; Bangladesh under the one-party of BAL has installed its own god to decide who will rule the nation. In 2019, perhaps it will no more be the people who will “vote” to decide the fate of Bangladesh.

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