Why are the people of Bangladesh apprehensive about the upcoming elections?

Due to the lack of established regard for the democratic system, elections held after the 1990s have been marred by political turmoil and civic unrest. The absence of a solid democratic foundation has hindered the institutionalization of democracy in national life and politics.

Farabi Bin Zahir Oct 04, 2023
Bangladesh's upcoming elections (Representational Photo)

The recent commencement of the 12th national parliament election in Bangladesh has sparked a significant upheaval. As per the Election Commission's announcement, the election is scheduled to take place in the first week of January 2024, although the specific date has not been disclosed yet. Undeniably, elections hold a crucial role in democratic governance. In accordance with the Constitution of Bangladesh, citizens have the privilege to exercise their voting rights every five years, electing representatives who will work towards the welfare of the people and enact laws for their betterment. 

Ideally, one would expect a festive atmosphere surrounding an election. However, the reality is quite the opposite. Instead, there is a palpable sense of fear and apprehension among the people regarding the upcoming elections. This fear encompasses concerns about the possibility of violence, potential loss of life and property, and large-scale social disruption that could affect people's freedom of movement. 

The question remains: why does this fear persist? 

To uncover the answer, we must delve into history. Following the independence of Bangladesh, the trajectory of democratic governance, led by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was severely disrupted on August 15, 1975. The democratic fabric of Bangladesh was tarnished, and it took approximately 15 years to restore the integrity of our democracy. Despite Bangladesh being 51 years old, nearly 15 years were spent without the presence of democracy. This setback hindered the democratic progress of our nation right from its inception. During a time when individuals should have been learning and practicing democratic values, several generations were deprived of the opportunity to do so amongst themselves. Since the 1990s, the democratic journey of our country has been reinstated, but doubts persist regarding the extent to which respect for democracy has been ingrained at every level of society.

History of violence 

Due to the lack of established regard for the democratic system, elections held after the 1990s have been marred by political turmoil and civic unrest. The absence of a solid democratic foundation has hindered the institutionalization of democracy in national life and politics. Consequently, there is a greater inclination towards weakening constitutional institutions rather than strengthening them. 

The citizens of our nation are understandably concerned about the upcoming elections due to the failure to establish a solid institutional framework for democracy in our political landscape. There are logical justifications for this public apprehension. Instances of vandalism, anarchy, and terrorism in the name of political campaigns have left a lasting impact on the collective consciousness. People have witnessed how political parties, under the guise of agitation, have jeopardized the safety and security of the common populace. The haunting memories of lives lost and the destructive consequences of power struggles continue to resonate within society. Consequently, the mere thought of electioneering evokes a negative and fearful image in the minds of the Bangladeshi people.  

Why this situation? Who is responsible for this situation? In simple words, this situation can be attributed to a lack of mutual respect among politicians, along with attempts to suppress opposing viewpoints. Both opposition and government parties have failed to fulfill their democratic responsibilities towards their adversaries. Bangladesh's political culture has witnessed horrific instances of bloody attacks on opposition parties, reflecting a severe lack of tolerance. Rather than prioritizing the functioning of parliament, our focus has shifted to “Rajpath”, leading to a centralization of politics. Attacks and lawsuits have become ingrained in the political landscape.

Debasement of politics 

Politics, originally intended for the betterment of society, has unfortunately deviated from its purpose, becoming a means to preserve or acquire power. The regrettable and unwarranted actions of certain politicians in the name of politics have generated a strong aversion among the people. Some politicians resort to undemocratic tactics without hesitation to attain power.  

Lately, there has been a flurry of statements and counter-statements between the two political parties, with both sides seemingly in a state of disarray. It is disheartening to witness the lack of concern for the suffering of the people, considering that politics should primarily focus on their welfare. Regrettably, little thought is given to the actual benefits that people derive from exercises of power. It remains uncertain whether those engaged in political activities possess the answers to these critical questions. 

Politics should always prioritize the welfare of the people. However, when politics becomes driven by the interests of individual politicians rather than the collective well-being of the nation, it loses its essence. This distortion of politics allows undemocratic forces to assert themselves, posing a threat to the very existence of the country. In a democracy, diverse opinions and disagreements are considered integral to the political discourse. 

Bangladesh, a nation that obtained freedom through the sacrifices of three million martyrs, cannot be treated as a mere gift, but rather a responsibility to be safeguarded. Those engaging in politics in Bangladesh must always bear in mind the larger security and interests of the country 

(The writer is a Bangladeshi columnist and civic activist. Views are personal. He can be contacted at fbzahir@gmail.com)

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