At long last, after two years of emergency rule and reform and restructuring, elections were held on December 29, 2008, and we today have a democratically elected government in place.
By all accounts, the elections were as free and fair as any we have ever seen in Bangladesh and the 87 per cent voter turn out and the peace and tranquility in which voting took place was a credit to the nation.
No one anticipated the extent of the Grand Alliance landslide although pre-election polls had certainly suggested a comfortable victory for the AL and its allies. But now that the votes are in, the time has come to try to decipher what they mean and what lessons there might be for us for the future.
In the final analysis, the caretaker government has done what it set out to do. It did not succeed in remaking our politics, but it did succeed in holding good elections and initiating some far-reaching and very necessary reforms.
More to the point, it seems as though the events of the past two years have had an impact on both the consciousness of the voters and on how politics will be conducted henceforth. With the new government barely in place, it is too soon to say for sure, but one truly gets the sense that the 2008 elections were a watershed for the nation, and that things will never be the same again.
The voters are empowered and energised as never before, and have signaled that they can no longer be taken for granted and that they won't let their elected leaders dictate to them any more.
Not only have they shown in three consecutive elections that they are willing to throw out an unperforming government, but there seems to be much greater voter awareness and consciousness than ever before, which can only be a good thing for the nation.
Where will we go from here? Much depends on how the government conducts itself. One hopes that it will have learned the lessons of the past and that it will be more responsive to public opinion and reach across the aisle to the opposition, and indeed, to civil society and the media and all other stake-holders. Now is the time for the government to show that it can listen to the voice of the people and that it can deliver.
No less crucial is the role of the opposition, and how it will deal with this crushing defeat. However, again, there is no reason that the parties defeated this time cannot reform and revitalise themselves and emerge as contenders for power five years from now.
The future is bright. The challenges before us are many, but we have come out of a difficult period with our democracy and our society strengthened. It really seems, as the new year gets underway, that we stand poised on the cusp of something new and inspiring. Let us hope that the year continues as brightly as it has begun.