January 4, 2019
A unanimous poll decision leaves Sheikh Hasina with many decisions to make.
It is the huge gaps in the numbers of votes polled by the winners and the losers in the 11th national election that apparently unveiled a “controlled and patterned” nature of the process of polls.
A foreign media commentator wondered why any “control” was exercised over BNP activists since the announcement of election schedule in September last. In his opinion, the ruling coalition or Mahajote contestants would have won by a handsome margin without keeping BNP workers at bay anyway! More so when the BNP was waffling and unprepared!
In fact, a hundred BNP candidates’ deposits have been forfeited as they couldn’t even secure one-tenth of their adversaries’ tally. In BNP’s last election debacle when they had around 30 seats, deposits of only 10 contestants were forfeited.
But I have a commonsensical point to flag about the veracity of “fairness” or otherwise of the polls. The question that invariably crosses the mind is whether it was physically possible for one man or a group of observers to be simultaneously present in more than 40,000 polling centres and be reporting their impressions! So it fundamentally devolves on the institutions—the EC, presiding officers, other polling officers and law enforcement personnel—to maintain and enforce the integrity of the election proceedings. They are empowered, trained and equipped to be doing so.
As for others—for all practical purposes—there would have been snapshot views to be joined in a narrative that obviously fell short of portraying a whole picture.
All this underscore the imperative need for inquest into complaints which in the first place should have been formally lodged with the presiding officers in writing along with proof, to begin with. This is part of the post-election follow-up at the election tribunal with legal remedies available higher up.
That said, Sheikh Hasina’s claim to re-election was solidly and invincibly based on her successful holding of the trial of Bangabandhu’s assassins and that of Pakistani collaborators charged with the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Most of them have been convicted and punished. Also the trial of the assassination of four national leaders—Tajuddin Ahmed, Syed Nazrul Islam, Captain Mansur Ali and Syed Kamaruzzaman—has been in progress. It has to be brought to a conclusion. This cannot be lost on anybody that in the ultimate analysis without Sheikh Hasina the stride we have made in resurrecting the Liberation War values in tangible terms would have been a far cry. There is more to be done; clearly with her at the helm, the younger generations would be imbued with love for the motherland anchored in the war of independence. Human resource will have to be built up for its own sake to reap demographic dividends. We are in a race with time; we have a window of maybe one and a half decades to haul up the dividends home.
To make democracy work, we need a functional parliament, an area where we have been found increasingly wanting in spite of successive elections. As for the just-concluded election, no viable opposition has been thrown up, only a medley of disjointed voices. There is therefore a suggestion for encouraging constructive discourse, even dissent within and outside of parliament. May we lend our voice in amending Article 70 to allow for any individual ruling party MP to express his opinion freely on an issue as long as it is rational, progressive and amounts to value addition to the parliamentary discourse?
Article 70 on vacation of seat or resignation etc. states: “1) A person elected as MP at an election at which he was nominated as a candidate by a political party shall vacate his seat, if he resigns from that party or votes in parliament against the party. Explanation—if a member of parliament – a) being present in parliament abstains from voting or – b) absents himself from any sitting of parliament, ignoring direction of the party which nominated him at the election as a candidate not to do so, he shall be deemed to have voted against the party.”
Article 70 has been independently made in the Constitution as an anti-defection law or in other sense all the conditions of Article 70 have been designed to prevent floor-crossing (or group forming).
Several amendments made to the original Article in the 1972 Constitution to render it cast-in stone will have to be hewn to create an aperture for critiquing government policy.
The parliamentary standing committees could be another avenue. The incumbent prime minister had introduced their heading by MPs including opposition members of parliament. Yet, the standing committees’ role needs further strengthening beyond the mere advisory one. Perhaps we could empower the important committees along the lines of the US Congress or the British House of Commons.
On a positive note 22 female MPs, two of them new (will) have taken oath as lawmakers. Of them 19 are from the ruling Awami League. They add on invaluably to the women MPs on reserved quota.
Shah Husain Imam is Adjunct Faculty at East West University, a commentator on current affairs, and former Associate Editor, The Daily Star.