November 16, 2023
DHAKA – Bangladesh’s political climate appears to be in a perpetual stalemate considering how things stand in 2023 and how they were 10 years ago.
Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal announced the election schedule yesterday, and the two political rivals — the Awami League and the BNP — remain entrenched in their positions.
Ten years and ten days ago, then CEC Kazi Rakibuddin Ahmed announced the election schedule.
Today, things look almost the same as they were then.
In the run up to the controversial 2014 national election, there was an initiative from the international community to hold talks between the AL and the BNP to resolve the stalemate centring the election.
At the time, the then UN special envoy Oscar Fernandez-Taranco tried to mediate but that exercise was not fruitful.
Ten years later, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu sent letters to three major political parties urging them to hold “unconditional talks,” but the ruling party says the time for dialogue is over.
The international community, especially the western nations, has long been calling on the government to create an environment for a free and fair election.
Before the 2018 polls, the AL and the BNP held talks to resolve their differences, but many issues remained unresolved.
Ahead of the 2014 election, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called BNP chief Khaleda Zia to initiate a dialogue to resolve the political crisis, but Khaleda rejected the offer rather harshly.
Now, Khaleda is undergoing treatment for multiple health complications and is ineligible to run in the election because of her conviction in a corruption case.
Just like it did ahead of the 2014 election, the BNP last night rejected the polls schedule and announced fresh street programmes to resist it.
The 2014 polls schedule was announced amid the BNP’s nationwide blockade. Yesterday was the first day of the BNP’s 48-hour blockade.
The BNP and some other opposition parties want a nonparty administration to oversee the polls, but AL says the election will be held under the Sheikh Hasina-led government in line with the constitution.
The BNP is continuing with its series of blockades and strikes, like it had done 10 years ago, and it appears to be heading towards a boycott of polls.
“It seems politics is back to square one. Both the ruling party and the opposition party have taken a hardline,” said Al Masud Hasanuzzaman, former professor of government and politics department at Jahangirnagar University.
“But people wanted talks between the two parties 10 years ago, and they want the talks now,” he added.
Shantanu Majumder, a political science professor at Dhaka University, said no one wants conflicts centring elections.
“Although the Election Commission has announced the polls schedule, there are still scopes for making the election more inclusive… We should all make an endeavour so that this election too does not slip through our fingers,” he said.