An Oppn-free Bangladesh

In the recently held general elections in Bangladesh the ruling Awami League and the 14-party Front led by it won a massive victory, capturing 288 of the 299 seats for which elections were held. The victory has been too ‘massive’ for the party to be comfortable. The Opposition has cried foul and demanded fresh elections under a “neutral” government. As this is not going to happen, the Opposition has decided to boycott the Parliament. The Awami League has declared that if the Opposition does not attend Parliament then their seats will be declared vacated and fresh elections held for those seats. Should this happen, Bangladesh will have the dubious distinction of being a democracy without a parliamentary opposition. This is not likely to enhance the reputation of Bangladesh as a democratic country.
What is worse is that the electoral defeat of the Opposition does not mean there are no opponents of the present government in Bangladesh. To be sure, there are opponents of the ruling party and the coalition. If they feel they have been deprive of a space in the democratic system of the country, the opposition to the present regime will be driven underground with all its ominous consequences. The possibility of the Islamic fundamentalists and radicalized Islamists going underground does not bode well for the country. It would have been far better if instead of squeezing them out of the parliamentary field, they had been allowed to operate within the democratic system.
Freedom of expression and political action within the democratic framework works as a safety valve for democracy. Plugging that valve is to invite danger. An opposition-free democracy is neither desirable nor workable. The leadership of the Awami League will have to interact with the Opposition leaders, persuade them to take part in parliamentary proceedings and explore the possibility of accommodating them in a suitable way in the new Parliament. There have been allegations of rigging. If some irregularity is detected in some constituencies, the ruling party should willingly agree to seek the people’s mandate afresh. This will not be a sign of weakness but of the innate strength of Bangladesh democracy.

Saturday, 5 January, 2019