‘price’ to pay for the forthcoming one-sided election will be the end to our multiparty democratic system. Democracy means multiparty democracy, where the people can freely apply their right to franchise to elect their representatives – representatives who will work on their behalf. Thus, a one-sided election, held excluding BNP and other important parties, will basically usher in a one-party rule, which can in no way be called democratic. As a result, we will fail to meet our constitutional commitment to create a democratic Bangladesh.

Yet another ‘cost’ of a one-sided election will be the collapse of the accountability structure, which is an essential characteristic of a democratic polity. There are, broadly speaking, two types of accountability mechanisms in a democratic system – the vertical accountability and the horizontal accountability. Vertical accountability is established by means of voting. If the rulers must go to the people every five years to beg for votes, then vertical accountability is established, and the government has to work in the interests and welfare of the people. But if the people’s consent is not required for the government to remain in power, then the government can do as it pleases, giving priority to the interests of those who brought them to and keeps them in power.

The government’s horizontal accountability is established through certain constitutional, statutory and non-state institutions. The TNational Parliament and the Supreme Court are two such important constitutional bodies. The government’s transparency and accountability are established through the oversight role of the parliamentary standing committees. The rule of law is established through the courts. The statutory bodies such as the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Information Commission also play important roles in establishing democratic accountability.

When these institutions become dysfunctional, the government becomes repressive and indulges in cronyism, corruption, looting and plundering, violation of human rights and other misdeeds, which have now become rampant in our society. Such misrule has become possible through the appointment of partisan individuals in these institutions and placing all sorts of unwarranted and unethical pressures on them. Another one-sided election will make this situation worse.

The civil society and political parties are the high priests of the non-state institutions. In a democratic polity, the civil society plays an important role in promoting and safeguarding the interests and welfare of the people by standing up against injustice, corruption, human rights violation, lack of rule of law and other misdeeds perpetrated by authorities. Thus, a strong civil society is one of the main preconditions for an effective democratic system. It plays the role of a watchdog and monitors the working of all other institutions.

Unfortunately, in our country the civil society organizations that work on democracy, good governance and human rights have been rendered almost completely ineffective. One strategy used by the authorities is to dispense patronages to create divisions within the civil society ranks. As a result, the teachers, lawyers, journalists and other professionals in our country stand divided on the basis of political allegiance. Another one-sided election may make this even worse.

Political parties are also important non-state institutions which can play a significant role in making the executive, that is, the government accountable. In a democratic polity, a political party announces its election manifesto to make the public aware of it future plans and programmes, nominates candidates to implement those programmes, contests the election, and forms government with a mandate from the people.

The election manifesto is a political party’s commitment to the people. It is important for the political party to hold accountable those whom it has nominated and get elected to positions of power. But in our country, this has been completely reversed. It is the elected chief executive, who has made the party subservient and uses it as an instrument for carrying out misdeeds, making the party the den of crime and corruption.

Another steep price to pay for an election ‘at any cost’ will be making the public servants totally partisan. Naked politicisation has already almost completely erased the lines between the ruling party and the state functionaries, namely the bureaucrats and the members of law enforcement agencies. Many of the employees of our Republic are now behaving like party cadres. They have become instruments of oppression by the government, paving the way for an authoritarian government.

Another consequence of an election held at any cost will be a possible economic collapse, and the common people will have to bear the brunt such a collapse. The economic hardship may make people angrier – many are already angry because of their loss of voting rights – and widespread anger may lead to mass upsurge destabilizing the status quo.

Another consequence of one-sided election will be the legitimacy problem of the government. Because of the last two failed elections, the government already suffers from a legitimacy crisis. Another controversial election will only worsen this crisis, which could make the government more dependent on external powers, compromising our sovereignty.

Finally, a relevant fundamental issue – one-sided election minus BNP and other major parties, in the truest sense, is no election at all. Election, by definition, is about choice. According to Black’s Law Dictionary – a dictionary used widely by legal professionals – election means an exercise of choice, the act of choosing from worthy alternatives. However, the choice will have to be legitimate, and the people must be free and have fair opportunity to choose through voting. Mere voting, in absence of legitimate choice, does not constitute ‘genuine’ election – a term used in Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In other words, election involves four things: voters, their act choosing, from legitimate alternatives, and their freedom in choosing.

In Bangladesh’s politics, there are two major brands – Awami League and BNP. If one of these two brands is absent from electoral contest, it will be a sham election despite the participation other fringe or ‘king’s parties’. In such an uneven contest, the electoral outcome is almost pre-determined, only waiting to be formally declared. However, the fringe and king’s parties may be given some seats by Awami League’s not contesting in certain constituencies or otherwise manipulating the voters’ freedom to choose. Such a sham one-sided election may put us as a nation in uncharted waters, ultimately leading to collective suicide.  

Badiul Alam Majumdar is Secretary, Shushasoner Jonno Nagorik

Source: Prothom-Alo | November 24, 2023