Vision 2013

A new brand of politics in demand

Shakhawat Liton

Photo: Star Archive

With a new year there is always a good opportunity for a fresh start. And Bangladesh desperately needs a fresh start in politics. People will see a ray of hope at the beginning of 2013 if the two top leaders look for the much desired fresh start by reassessing the political strategy and stance they had in the past year. Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia can easily reshape the course of future political events with only their sincere wish for a fresh start, for a new beginning in politics. The ladies hold total sway in their respective parties. And, there are still many numerous leaders in both the parties who sincerely want fresh politics.

A fresh start could pave the ground for writing a new political history in the country. People may forget and forgive many of their mistakes they made if they made efforts to move forward with new politics, discarding the old and confrontational culture that has been synonymous to politics. It will free people from great anxiety and fear of street violence in the future. If Hasina and Khaleda wish, they can resolve the looming political crisis by taking the disputes to the discussion table. We want to believe they are democrats and they must opt for discussion as their only political expedient to resolve the impending crisis.

Politics is also the art of compromise and the compromise always should be made for the welfare of people and to carry forward democracy. We the people of Bangladesh want to sincerely believe that our two leaders know how to apply their political wisdom and art of compromise. And they will guide people to new days with hopes for the coming year.

And if they do so, no more Bishwajit Das will be subjected to brutal death on the streets in broad daylight. No vehicle will be set on fire. No public property will be damaged. No patient will have to face hurdles to reach the hospital. No businessman will need to count losses for shutdown of factories. No rickshaw puller, or day labourer, will blame any politicians like they did in the past when earning their daily bread was hampered. Nobody will curse any politician as they will no more be made victims of untold sufferings due to violent political programmes. No foreign diplomats will need to express concern and meddle in our domestic politics. No politician will need to go abroad to join any political dialogue on Bangladesh's political situation and general elections.

There are hundreds of good things which may take place in the coming days if politics discards its ugly face and takes a departure from the old ways right from the beginning of 2013. And if so, everybody will wish good luck to Hasina and Khaleda and pray for their good health and long life.

If they fail to make a fresh start as desired by people, what is in store for people and the country? Do we go for another round of political uncertainty? More Bishwajit Das? Untold sufferings for the general populace? More crippling damage to the country's economy?

Will the election reappear as a curse for country's majority people? As per the constitutional provision, the tenure of current parliament will expire on January 24, 2014. And the next parliament elections will be held within 90 days before January 24. The polls may be held in the middle of January of 2014, if the parliament is not dissolved before expiry of its five year term, and if everything goes smoothly. Keeping the timeline in mind, the Election Commission is taking necessary preparations including updating the voter list. The country is supposed to be in election mood and fever from October, 2014. In fact the year of 2013 will be an election year as apart from the general polls, the EC may have to conduct other mega elections to upazilla parishads.

Is everything going on the right track? It is a crucial question right now. And all prevailing signs indicate possible political turmoil is looming large ahead of the next parliamentary election as the rival camps -- ruling Awami League and BNP -- remain rigid on their respective stances. After abolishing the caretaker government system in June, 2011, AL has cleared the way for remaining in office during the general election. But the BNP-led opposition parties from the very beginning have been asserting that they will in no way join the next parliamentary election if it is held under the AL-led government. The opposition block has been demanding for installation of a non-partisan government for holding the next election in free and fair manner. Not only that, the main opposition bloc has announced that elections would be boycotted if held under the AL-led government.

Photo: Hasan Raza

What will the BNP-led opposition combine do if the AL-led government does not agree to install a non-partisan election time government? As per earlier declaration, we are likely to witness intensified street agitations by enforcement of more hartals, road blockade and other programmes to compel the government to come to terms.

What will AL and the government do in response to the opposition's intensified street agitations? They will of course employ resources available to the state and the party to resist the opposition agitation. The situation will worsen if the political rivals engage in a bid to establish their supremacy on the streets. Will then the ghost of political violence appear again with full force? During last December, the way the ruling party men and opposition activists were locked in street battles in the capital and elsewhere in the country reminds people of the scenes of 2006 and early 2007.

Will history repeat itself due to stubbornness of the two major political parties? Do the BNP-led opposition parties want repetition of the past for realising their demands? Will they follow the past strategy of AL?

The ruling AL, while in opposition, had launched vigorous street agitation against BNP-led government twice -- once between 1994 and early 1996 and again between 2005 and 2006. They have enforced violent street agitation including blockade, non-cooperation movement and 96 days of hartal to press home their demand for the caretaker government system.

Amid the opposition's movement and boycott, a farcical parliamentary election was held on February 15, 1996. But the BNP could not retain power. In the face of violent agitation, it stood down introducing the caretaker government system by amending the constitution in March that year.

The second time, the AL-led opposition launched violent street agitation against the BNP-led government in protest against an attempt to make former chief justice KM Hasan the chief adviser of the caretaker government.

The AL enforced dozens of hartals and other programmes including blockade and siege. The country's politics took a violent turn at the end of 2006 over the appointment of the chief adviser.

The BNP also made desperate efforts to get the parliamentary polls held in January 2007 by putting pressure on the Iajuddin-led caretaker government.

Escalation of violence in the streets during the AL-led opposition's agitation programmes forced the then president to declare a state of emergency, suspending the parliamentary polls.

During the last state of emergency, many politicians had to suffer a lot. Many including Hasina and Khaleda were detained behind bars. Efforts were taken to oust the two top leaders from politics even by splitting their parties. So, it was expected that country's politicians would learn lessons from the political disaster and would work to avert such crisis in future.

But politicians seem to have taken little lessons from the political tsunami of recent past. This time, the AL-led government rang the bell for crisis by abolishing the caretaker government system. And it must now ring the bell first to open a window for resolution of the political crisis. The opposition parties should come up with open mind in response to the government's any move.

Photo: Star Archive

The way the situation is developing fast, everything now depends on Hasina and Khaleda. They need to rethink and decide afresh what they really want.

In the New Year, we the people of Bangladesh expect peaceful transition of power which will demonstrate maturity of our democracy and we want to be proud of it. May this new year turn to be a year of new politics with full of hopes of good days.

The writer is Senior Reporter, The Daily Star.


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