Published:  12:00 AM, 22 December 2015

Prospect of a new political order

Prospect of a new political order
There are constant debates and discussions about what is going to happen to Bangladesh in terms of political developments; are we going to become some sort of one party state and what happens to electoral democracy that all our politicians had been screaming about for many decades now. Supporters, TV commentators, expert analysts, bloggers inclined to both major and other minor camps had been putting forward arguments and counter-arguments in favor of their political positions. But all these are mostly confined to our lame duck public discourse and hardly any Egypt style media and social media influenced mobilization is being taking place. Neither could we be sure that would bring about something good in longer term had that happened.
In terms of the political power fight, not bounded by any consensus rules, the initial and recent rounds went to the incumbent evidently. The opposition tried to play their cards, domestic and international, but those seemingly did not produce the desired result they expected. The political cadres of the ruling party faced and resisted the opposition in the public squares successfully with the help of the law enforcing agencies. The powerful state organs have apparently been put under straps and legal restrictions to the extent that they won't buzz, perhaps unless there is a massive public upheaval and that doesn't look coming at all.  
The failure of horrendous 'Molotov Cocktail (Petrol Bomb)' tactic in the early months of the year and the way it angered the public was indeed a good thing. More high profile executions have already been conducted following the completion of two more war crime trial.  Now the much tamed opposition after running out of ideas decided to take part in the local elections.
The big question is, "now what"? Where do we go from here?
The bigger dynamics that most of our commentators and experts appear to be missing is that, the political happenings in Bangladesh are probably more than just a dirty political maneuver by the incumbent to prolong their being in the helm of the state. Behind all these tactical moves there is something strategic. They have that in their mind with some degree of consistency and they are slowly but steadily working towards that. It's true that for a 'not so strong' developing country like Bangladesh our fate isn't entirely in our own hand. Yet, notwithstanding all the superficial presumptions there seem to be a new (or old, in some sense) paradigmatic direction the ruling party wants to take the nation.  
Therefore, it's about a new political order or settlement and not about democratic propriety under the pre- existing order. There are implicit indications of that. To comprehend the true picture one needs to understand the chronology of the few political settlements, of whatever nature, we had post-independence. We may be in a flux now, but until recently politics in Bangladesh had been operating under the political order which falls broadly under the post 1975 political settlement, the only other political settlement being the post 1971 one that started with multi-party democracy and sadly degenerated to one party rule. There were obvious sub-phases in the post 1975 political settlement - Zia era, Ershad era and post 1990 democratic era; but neither of these made any fundamental amendment to ideological assumptions of the post 1975 settlement.   The differences in state ideology between these two orders are stark and almost irreconcilable.
Clearly, the incumbent has now undertaken this task of ideological correction in the rudimentary doctrine of the state and vision of the nation and perhaps they profoundly feel it's their historic obligation to do so. Indeed, we as a nation were born through a revolutionary event and unfortunately due to our ill fate much of the progressive spirit and ideology of the revolution were gravely polluted in the later years. The fear now is that, too much of personality and family cult may spoil this corrective endeavor.  
Now, is there a place for the moderate center right BNP in the new political settlement? Of course, there ought to be. The party just needs to tactically and strategically position itself. They also should consider some ideological modifications towards further moderation. BNP has enough support bases. The vast section of moderately religious Muslim who are generally India skeptic and traditionally considers Awami League as a party of misrule. They will keep supporting BNP even if they severe ties with Jamaat in the reality of the new secular order which might omit the anti-liberation force from the Bangladesh's political landscape. BNP might also have to accept certain historical facts which they so far have been denying through a largely made up alternative narrative. But all these and its organizational weakness wont dent its naturally broad support base at least in near future.  
One lingering issue must be resolved though and it's about suspected involvement of BNP leadership in the 21st August Grenade attack. Their mishandling of the affair with 'Joz Miah' drama etc  worsened the matter. There is a deep suspicion in AL leadership it was another attempt by the AL rivals including BNP to perish their leading political family from the face of the earth.  Now the opposition is on the verge of elimination - ironically through constitutional means. Honest and comprehensive agreement of 'no attempt to physical elimination' from each other must be a corner stone of any future political arrangement.
Regardless of the legal fate of religion based politics, the new generation Jamaat politicians and supporters may always have the option to reorganized under the rubric of a new party like the Turkish Islamists. Almost everyone, in one way or other, will probably have some place in the new political settlement. Being dismissive or attempting to resist this new political order out-rightly by the opposition will provide with some more reasons or the AL to cling on to power through whatever means. On the other hand if the opposition, by and large, accept the new  order and take a reformed ideological and strategic stance, that would pave the way for a realistic dialogue for restoration of true electoral democracy within a reasonable timeline. At the end of the day a modern political party needs some chance of getting back to public office to survive. On the other hand, at the back of its mind, a grass root political outfit like the AL won't be comfortable clinging on to power at the cost of their popular base for too long. Also they should know that the any potential political vacuum created by elimination of BNP, if that is in their mind at all, will be fulfilled by elements from further right and - not by them by expanding their base. These dual compulsions may result in something good for Bangladesh. The sensible would fancy that, at the least.  
                                                
The writer is the Head of Operations at BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University.  Email: sarwar558@gmail.com . Opinion expressed here is entirely the writers personal

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