The 12th National Parliamentary Election of Bangladesh is scheduled to take place on January, 2024. As Bangladesh Awami League, under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is in power of the government for three consecutive terms, the political environment before the elections is getting vulnerable. The opposition parties are determined to topple the government as they are demanding an election-time caretaker government. The ruling party is determined to follow the constitution to hold the election under the partisan government. Many issues are coming up surrounding the election. But, out of all the issues, peaceful power transfer will remain vital for the upcoming election.
The problem with peaceful power transfer in our country lies before the birth of Bangladesh. Awami League under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman won the 1970 Pakistan General Elections with huge majority. But the Pakistani rulers did not transfer the power to Awami League peacefully and that actually instigated the 1971 liberation war. The birth of Bangladesh was the result of the ill intention of West Pakistani rulers and their East Pakistani allies including Muslim League and Jamaat-e-Islami over peaceful power transfer after the election. Since our liberation, we have experienced the same problem on several instances and BNP-Jamaat alliance after 2001 election took this to such a height that the trust between the political parties was completely destroyed. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina peacefully transferred power in 2001 but BNP and its allies refused to so on every occasion.
The main opposition BNP and the ruling Awami League cannot agree on how to conduct the upcoming national election. The Awami League, in power since January 2009, wants it to be held according to the constitution, under the 15th amendment that it brought to the constitution in June 2011. The BNP demands that the Awami League government leave office and cede control to a temporary, non-partisan administration so that elections can be held.
BNP tainted the provision of caretaker government after winning in 2001. A caretaker government supported by the military took power on 1/11 as a result of their political mockery. Many seasoned politicians in the nation experienced harassment and were compelled to give up their political careers. Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia chose to combat the situation though TarekRahman signed an undertaking to leave the nation and avoid politics. The interim administration tried everything to prevent Sheikh Hasina from returning before she did. Some people try to portray Khaleda Zia as uncompromising for remaining in the nation, but if Sheikh Hasina hadn’t come back, democracy would have already been lost by this point.
However, Sheikh Hasina tried to be the wiser leader when she called Khaleda Zia before the election in 2014. BNP made their worst mistake by not participating in the Election of 2014. Before the election of 2018, BNP knew their organizational capacity was inadequate to win the election. Their sudden alliance with Oyikko Front under the leadership of Dr Kamal Hossain looked like a joke to everyone. And it must not be forgotten that 6 of their elected MP’s later joined the parliament, although recently they have resigned to question the legitimacy after four years.
After Awami League came into power in 2009, to ensure peaceful environment, Shiekh Hasina stopped all sorts of victory rally. On the other hand, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia threatened the ruling party leaders on multiple occasions. She even said that, she will file so many cases against Sheikh Hasina that she will be bound to spend her days at the court. Before going to jail though Khaleda Zia assured that, her party will not conduct any act of vengence over the opposition, government employees or law enforcers if her party comes in power. But BNP leaders often express very different opinion than that. BNP-Jamaat already showed that they are well-capable to take the life of the Awami League leaders and activists. The BNP-Jamaat has also expressed their commitment to punish those who ensured the trial and punishment of the war criminals. This type of threat has further enhanced political mistrust. Moreover, recently a BNP leader threatened that, Sheikh Hasina will be sent to her grave.
There had been 21 assassination attempts on Sheikh Hasina and most of her family members were brutally killed on 15 August, 1975. She is not afraid of such attacks. But the act of BNP-Jamaat completely broke her trust. Throughout Bangladesh, the Awami League leaders and activists are afraid that, if BNP or Jamaat comes into power, then they will kill, rape, loot and torture thousands of Awami League supporters. Awami Leaders will be mostly sent to jail on different cases. Hence, according to the Awami League supporters, there is no way of peaceful power transfer.
Bangladesh has turned into a role model of development during the consecutive three terms of Awami League under the visionary and courageous leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. But due to her consecutive reign and BNP’s non-participation is the democratic process, the democracy of Bangladesh has been questioned by many, especially the foreign powers who want to utilize Bangladesh for their own interest in the region. Sheikh Hasina has expressed her commitment to ensure a free and fair election on multiple occasions. But the opposition does not trust her. Many things are being brought on the table but truly the mistrust between the political parties is now the main barrier to a free, fair and participative election in Bangladesh.
BNP has to commit to ensure a peaceful power transfer process by ensuring the safety and security of all Awami League leaders, workers and supporters if they come into power. To prove their commitment, they might break their alliance with Jamaat at first as Jamaat is still not committed to the sovereignty of Bangladesh and they can easily take violent agenda for their own ill interest. If BNP comes out of the influence of Jammat, then a large segment of the populace will start trusting BNP again and Awami League will also feel some relief.
The political parties provided a joint manifesto during the movement for democracy to topple the government of HM Ershad. The political parties should develop such a joint manifesto with their promises of peaceful power transfer. The foreign influencers like the US, EU, UN etc. should influence the political parties to initiate such a manifesto which will guarantee that, if any party comes to power then they will not oppress or torture the opposition and will not file useless cases. This might bring back some trust among the political parties. Moreover, even if the manifesto is development and implemented, it will take at least three terms with peaceful power transfer to finally eradicate the political mistrust and to establish complete democratic practices.
Caretaker government, foreign influence, economic challenges and many thing else can influence the upcoming national elections. But if there is no commitment of peaceful power transfer, then that will harm the electoral environment and outcome the most. To uphold democracy, it is mandatory that the winning party of an election will protect the human rights of the losing party supporters. BNP-Jamaat alliance had broken the trust among the political parties and now it is their responsibility to repair that. Only if that happens, then we will truly find a democratic environment in the upcoming elections.
The writer is Chief Editor at MohammadiNews Agency (MNA) and Editor at Kishore Bangla