Published:  01:21 AM, 10 January 2019

11th Parliamentary Elections: Some observations

The eleventh national election of Bangladesh is over. Awami League claimed a total of 267 seats; the other parties together managed the rest of 299 seats. This is a landslide victory for AL; clearly the eleventh parliament of Bangladesh will be peopled by parliamentarians from the AL outfit. It is now a party with the 'majority' tag and will enjoy a complete control over all policy-making decisions to an unprecedented extent. That's very fine. Now the question is where we will go from here.

In our political context, the words like 'majority' and 'minority' are two important vocabularies; they are words with significance. "Are you in the majority?"- is the kind of question that we like to ask people. For us, being in the majority is to have a secure position within a political community while being in the minority is to risk being persecuted. The 'security' factor is, as it seems now, all that matters.

Clearly this is a gross simplification of a complex range of meaning represented by the binary distinction of majority/minority, yet it is very relevant at this point of our political history; as AL is the only party claiming the majority, if not all, of seats in the eleventh national election of Bangladesh, one might feel tempted to ask whether this strength of majority will be used as a licence for unsavory political ends or not.

This apprehension is fuelled by the recently concluded election; as usual, there are debates and controversies and opinions pouring in from all kinds of angles. There are quarters with their ready speech of rejection and there are those with vigorous call for the retake of the election; everyone seems to have a point but the fact is that everyone is playing an all-too-familiar game.

One may argue otherwise but the last ten years of political regime under the AL-led government has been very eventful; no one can claim that it went off as perfectly as a picture, yet no one can deny that progress was made, breakthrough achieved and new heights scaled as never before.

There are sustentative changes with impact on our collective life as immediate as our breathing; one can say so without the risk of sounding facetious- ask the first man you meet on the street. Controversy is a fate that accrues to those who pioneer for changes; those who do not work, do not sully their hands, but are merely contented with making tendentious remarks at those who work do not get the blame.

The question that we are really interested in is whether our political scenario will get better or worse from here. The ball is certainly in the AL's court and it remains to be seen whether AL, with its invincibility as we see now, will play hard ball with their opponents or keep up the pace of development by practicing a more inclusive and participatory nature of democracy in future.

It is a common thing about our political culture that when one makes a comment on politics in general, the personal ideology of the commentator is taken for granted and linked, very unjustly, to poorly-judged political stance. We will do ourselves a world of good if we cultivate the habit, in matters related to politics, of making objective assessment and keep a lid on our subjective feelings.

Objective criticism requires at some point self-criticism and it is one thing that AL in the current scenario should look out for. As the only party with the overwhelming 'majority' in the eleventh parliamentary election, AL now occupies a position of prominence. It is already a big party and it is getting bigger almost every day.

The reason is simple- no one wants to stay outside the privileged space that a party with the majority of seats can offer; this space promises security and survival. If that is so, it will be interesting to see how AL accommodates all the stake-holders and have them all on board in a winning combination in the days to come.

This issue is linked to another; will it count as a true love of the activists for AL if they get themselves roped in simply because this party with 'majority' tag can now offer them a secure scaffolding in the shifting sands of politics? Genuineness of interest and commitment to the cause do matter in the long run; if opportunism, security and compulsion count as criteria for inclusion, AL can be a big party with, yet, very few people to back it up in its hard times.

The eleventh national election is a landmark event in the annals of Bangladesh. People who believe in the pro-Liberation War spirit have spoken; however, that spirit should not be traded off as an end in itself or as springboard for stratospheric growth for self-seeking individuals.

Pivotal to our secular past characterized by rejection of authoritarianism of any kind, this spirit needs to be embodied in practices in line with the principles of the constitution of 1972, in the nurture of democracy in its pluralistic and participatory form, in the empowerment of people irrespective of creed and dogma, in ensuring that dissenting voices do not meet political harassment if they do not transgress the limits of decency and tolerability.

Healthy debate and dialogue among the stakeholders is a sign of good democracy; but as it has been seen in some democracies that parties with sweeping victories in election often close the 'game' for potential competitors and dictate affairs in their own terms;

The truth is that big parties have every right to do so because the mandate from the majority of the people constitutionally endorse them if they 'make life difficult' for their opponents; but what happens is that big parties, in the absence of strong opposition, gradually lose sight of their weaknesses, forgets how to do self-criticism and eventually make opposition of themselves.

The dialectic of change, at that point, operates in bringing to surface the contradictions that lay hidden within these parties for long; it pulls them apart and sets in a remorseless process of 'witch-hunting' from within. A careful study of global politics will bear testimony to that fact.

That certainly is not the most pleasant thing to happen to parties that began with overwhelming support from people. 'To be in the majority' in that sense is not necessarily to be with the advantage; that is why while we  sincerely welcome our newly sworn-in leaders, we would also like them to pay heed to the dark ironies of history.

The writer teaches English at
The University of Barisal

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