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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Bangladesh after polls: From the frying pan and into the fire?

The political stalemate in Bangladesh has entered a new phase with the 5 January polls that were boycotted by the opposition and have been labeled as most violent and noticed for one of the lowest voter turn out in the electoral history of Bangladesh. 

In the evening of the poll day, I was asked for a brief assessment of the situation by Victor Martin, a Spanish journalist in Delhi. Some of my statements made way to the report he got published in Spanish newspaper El Mundo. Here is the original exchange from which the readers can have a clearer glimpse of my opinion in the whole affair. 

Is this a real democratic process if the opposition is not going to play in 154 seats?

Theoretically, and what they say ‘constitutionally, yes. But practically no as the things stand today.

This election had low participation. For you, which is the reason? Is the (non) security or is because the people just can vote one party and they don’t want to do it? What do you think?

Both reasons are partially valid. But I think the people are increasingly losing faith towards both the political parties as well as the system itself. The major motive of voters in any election is that the votes they cast will bring about some tangible positive changes in their lives. When they see the whole political practice as a farce played to ensure the personal gains and to feed the ego of the leaders (the PM Hasina and Opposition Leader Zia in this case) there is no genuine motivation for going to caste the votes. Also, unlike the committed voters of the ruling Awami League, a large section of so called ‘swing voters’ were never ready to take the risk of getting injured or even death for merely casting votes in an election of questionable legitimacy. I think this was one of the reasons behind the low voter turn out.

In this elections, the question is not who is going to win; the question is what’s going to happen tomorrow? Is the violence growing up? The country is now polarized, is this situation going to a worse way? What can we expect?

Going by the events so far, situation is all set to worsen over days to weeks. The stakes are high for both the sides and a stalemate is likely to prevail thereby draining the economy and further alienating the common people. Apparently, the AL once overestimated the mandate it got during the last polls and has behaved with overconfidence. That seems all set to backfire now. Its capacity to control the developments after this election will be limited. For the opposition, this is do or die situation: there is no recourse left except paralyzing the country if they are to exert their influence in any way in the new situation. A quagmire is thus a given for the short term future. If past is any guide, the army may have to be called to control the situation. Far less likely is the situation in which the AL successfully handles the election fallout to retain power for long enough.

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