With electoral violence posing a grave threat to the countrys political landscape, anxiety surrounds the democratic process in Bangladesh as it prepares for the 12th National Elections. In the last nation election in 2018, more than 23 people died and around 700 were injured in electoral violence. The number was much higher in the 2014 national election as more than 300 lives were lost and thousands were injured. Hence, this time also, the electoral violence might find pace if not closely monitored.
The fundamental underpinnings of a democratic society are in danger due to the complex threat posed by electoral violence. Deep-seated differences and a history of political turmoil have created a favorable environment for the emergence of such threats in Bangladesh. Due to the history of contested elections and the fierce rivalry between political parties, there is a high risk of violence and instability. This is particularly true in light of the boycott of the poll by BNP and Jamaat. Moreover, the risk of violence is increased in the digital era due to the prominence of hate speech and disinformation campaigns. Social media sites, which are frequently employed as instruments for political mobilization, may unintentionally turn into hubs for the spread of misinformation and divisive speech, stoking tensions even more.
BNP is not participating in this election as their acting chairman Tarique Rahman has no real scope to contest the polls and as their main ally Jamaat also cannot contest the polls. Their demands of caretaker government and a new Election Commission requires a long time to be fulfilled and as one of the two largest party of the country, Awami League will oppose those demands, BNP should have adopted parliamentary strategies by participating in this upcoming election. Moreover, as the international community is having a close eye on the January 7, 2024 election, BNP could have prove their points by participating in this election. But they foolishly remained out of contest and will keep suffering the consequences.
BNP had timed everything around the 2023 national elections, but they were unable to achieve their goals. They laced every judgment they made with errors. Their movements are tainted by violence, and neither the partys activists nor have the general public responded to them. They have resorted to ongoing strikes and blockades at the end of the year, which were essentially announced out of desperation. The ruling Awami League, on the other hand, is confidently approaching the poll. After failing to accomplish anything significant, even by filing complaints with foreigners, BNP is currently preoccupied with desperate measures.
BNP has thus far been unable to thwart the 12th National Parliamentary election. This resulted from both their incorrect programs and policy errors. Despite BNPs insistence that their programs did not incite violence, they are nonetheless accountable for a number of violent acts that occurred while their programs were in effect, including the burning of public transportation, the murder of civilians and law enforcement officials, the uprooting of rail lines, etc. They cannot escape their accountability for fostering an atmosphere that encourages such unfortunate events.
Additionally, Tarique Rahman, BNPs senior vice-chairman, who is in exile and has been found guilty in multiple trials, controls the organizations top leadership. Following BNP-Jamaat governments ascent to power in 2001, he and his Jamaat allies staged a number of horrific and violent incidents. Hence, BNP-Jamaats past record always make them supportive of violence.
BNP needs to acknowledge that their plan has been unsuccessful and that they have once again missed the election train. In actuality, they have deceived their followers while their programs have failed miserably to engage the public. It is unclear at this point if BNP will be able to survive as a political party following the election, but even in the absence of their participation, the democratic process will continue, and we can prepare for a freshly elected government on January 7, 2024.
BNP and Jamaat have already caused serious trauma for the people of Bangladesh over the decades. The government and the law enforcers should not underestimate these directionless parties as they can create sudden volatility prior to the upcoming national election. Moreover, as the ruling party Awami League is allowing its leaders to contest independently if not nominated to create a competitive election environment, risks of violence has increased a lot. So, the EC, the government and the law enforcers must take all possible measures to ensure a peaceful election.
The threat of electoral violence, which frequently resurfaces during political shifts, causes great pain to the very individuals whose voices the democratic process aims to elevate. To begin with, electoral violence jeopardizes the fundamental human right to life and security. Individuals who witness or personally experience violence might be traumatized, damaging their mental health and well-being long after the immediate threat has passed. Furthermore, the economic consequences of election violence worsen peoples misery. Disruptions to public services, infrastructure damage, and community dislocation all contribute to an unstable economic climate. Electoral violence also has a negative impact on social cohesiveness.
Bangladesh is important to the world, especially given Asias unpredictability. It is a worldwide production powerhouse and has been an anchor against the return of militancy in this geopolitically crucial region under Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina. Sheikh Hasinas government had to deal with the spread of militancy while driving the nation towards prosperity during the last 15 years. Its emphasis on economic liberalization has produced unparalleled outcomes. Even the governments toughest critics acknowledge this. But extremism can create heavy challenges and can even offset the developments that we made so far.
The administration, civil society, and international observers must work together to ensure a calm and transparent electoral process in order to counter these dangers. To reduce the likelihood of electoral violence, strong security measures, constructive communication between political parties, and media literacy initiatives are crucial but such tools are becoming ineffective as the proper opposition parties are not in favor of dialogues with anyone.
It is critical for modern democratic societies to acknowledge that militants and extremists have adopted new counter-philosophical and moral narratives to undermine democracys core base. Such danger is heightened by the presence of political groups such as Jamaat on the scene. Prior to the approaching national election, authorities should exercise extreme caution in the face of extremist violence.
The 12th National Parliamentary election is very important for Bangladesh as it will shape the future of the nation to a great extent. Therefore, it is crucial that the public have a suitable atmosphere in which they can freely cast their votes for the leaders they want. It is the responsibility of all pertinent authorities to create a political environment that is in line with law and order. We hope, the upcoming election will be embraced by the citizens in a festive manner and Bangladesh will remain on the path of progress.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla