Bangladesh Post Elections 2014: What Went Wrong?

15 Jan, 2014    ·   4260

Harun ur Rashid comments on the BNP boycott of the January elections

Since 1991 the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has either formed the government or the opposition in parliament. For the first time, BNP’s will not have a parliamentary presence because the party boycotted the January 2014 parliamentary elections because of a non-party poll-time government holding the elections.

In November 2013, Prime Minister Hasina formed a poll-time ‘all-party’ government and invited the BNP to nominate a few MPs but BNP rejected the offer. Sheikh Hasina amended the constitution in 2011 and abolished the non-party caretaker poll-time government on the grounds of the apex court verdict which declared that such unelected government was unconstitutional.

BNP, on the other hand, strongly argued that the AL misconceived the verdict and that the apex court did not rule out non-partisan government for another two parliamentary elections, meaning that such government can exist until 2024.
When a special constitutional committee to amend the constitution was formed in 2010 with MPs from different political parties, the BNP boycotted it. Had they taken part in the committee, they would have been able to robustly argue against the abolition of the caretaker system, although they would have been outvoted by the AL members. However, their views would have been recorded by the people.

For the past two and a half years, primarily two issues - one raised by BNP and the other by Jamaat –e- Islami - have dominated the political scene in the country. While BNP sought the restoration of the non-party caretaker government, the Jamaat demanded that the trial of their leaders by the tribunals set up in 2010 under the International Crimes Tribunals Act be postponed and their leaders released.

The issues are totally separate and consequently people’s reactions have also been different. While it is reported that 77 per cent agreed with the BNP stance on the restoration of the non-party caretaker poll-time government, the people overwhelmingly supported the trial of Jamaat leaders charged with crimes against humanity in the 1971 Liberation War.

Observers say that by supporting the Jamaat for hartals, BNP made a political blunder. Many say that Jamaat has used the BNP for its objectives and BNP should not have allowed itself to fall into this trap.

When violence, arson, derailment of trains that were allegedly masterminded by Jamaat and Shibir supporters occurred (because of death sentences on their leaders), the BNP leadership was silent.

Observers say that the BNP should have disassociated from such violent activities by acknowledging their impact on the lives of Bangladeshis.  For instance, BNP leaders could have visited the burn unit of Dhaka Medical College Hospital to empathise with the victims.

BNP seemed to have made another political error by not immediately reacting to the resolution of the Pakistani Parliament after Jamaat leader Kader Mollah was executed following an the apex court confirmation in December 2013.

BNP-backed candidates won many local mayoral elections with thumping majorities in the middle of 2013, defeating AL candidates. Although local elections are different from parliamentary elections because the outcome changes the power of the national government, it is a barometer to judge the fairness of elections at this level. Furthermore, due to media vigilance and alertness, it is very difficult to rig an entire election.

Observers say that the BNP should have entered into a meaningful dialogue with the AL on the issue of free and fair polls and should not have stuck stubbornly to the caretaker system when the apex court declared it as unconstitutional. Other ways for free and fair polls could have been negotiated, and some say that the BNP should have accepted ministerial positions in the all-party government headed by the PM. The presence of BNP ministers could have possibly prevented election rigging.
Every one believed that at the end of the day BNP candidates would contest as ‘independent’ candidates and that they could have won the elections since no party in Bangladesh has won two elections contested by two major parties.

The BNP grass-root workers are reportedly disappointed with the strategy of the BNP leadership in boycotting the election and are seeking an explanation from the leadership. It seems the BNP leaders have no satisfactory answer to the question.