As the 12th national parliamentary election is scheduled within 14 months or so, Bangladesh is fast moving towards an election that is already under scanner in terms of transparency, inclusiveness, and democratic practices. The whole atmosphere leading to the ensuing elections is now being closely watched on a global scale. The Election Commission (EC) has already taken several actions coupled with the government’s apparent will to make the next national elections freer, fairer, and further participatory. With the national polls ahead, one can see that the BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist party) has recently geared up ground activities, which give impression that the party is perhaps preparing for the next parliamentary polls while inviting a sort of vibrancy in the country’s field of politics.
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This has made the government anticipate a political atmosphere to be heated up centring over the next election, while also poses some extra challenges for the EC like establishing trust, guaranteeing impartiality of the local government, garnering faith in computerised voting equipment,
managing the contenders, tackling all sorts of unrest in the process, preventing use of black money and intimidation during polls, and preserving law and order throughout the election phase.
LOOKING BACK AT PREVIOUS POLITICAL TURMOIL
In the 2014 parliamentary elections, the Awami League (AL) won 232 of the 300 seats. In addition, to boycott the election, the opposition BNP ran a campaign to lower voter turnout. They consequently lost the election. BNP allegedly ruined the nation’s peace and created unrest to stop the election. As a result, many BNP leaders were arrested for to curb the spread of violence. After the election, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina adopted a firm stance, declaring that she would not enter negotiations until the opposition stop inciting violence.
“Today, democracy is soiled by the blood of innocent people and soaked by the tears of burnt people, who have fallen victim to the violent political programs that were hammering the nation’s conscience,” PM Hasina had declared after the election. ” The army was to curb any post-poll terrorism and violence with heavy fists,” PM Hasina continued.
SOCIO-ECONOMIC GROWTH IN THE LAST DECADE
Currently, Awami League is in the fourth term of premiership by winning for the third consecutive term directed by PM Sheikh Hasina. Climbing every ladder of fame, tradition, hardship, and triumph, the ruling party has reached its 73rd year. With Hasina at the helm of the Awami League as president, and Prime Minister, Bangladesh has not only joined the ranks of the developing nations, but it has also become an economic development model for the rest of the world.
Bangladesh is now attaining 7% average GDP (gross domestic product) growth, surpassing the benchmark of the Lower Middle-Income status in 2015 because of the exceptional social, economic, and political leadership of PM Sheikh Hasina. There have been various mega-projects included in the country’s development through the last 12 years. To overhaul the nation’s electrical, transportation, and communication infrastructure, the Awami League government launched several enormous construction projects after taking office in 2009. Ten megaprojects in total were chosen for fast-tracking because they would significantly influence the economy and the general welfare of the public.
Seven of the eight mega projects; Padma Bridge, Padma Rail Link, Metro Rail, Chattogram- Cox’s Bazar Rail Link, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, Matarbari Power Plant, and Payra Deep Sea Port are vitally important to the nation’s economic growth, thus the government’s top priority right now is their prompt completion.
Not only infrastructural developments, but the country has also excelled in agriculture, health, ICT, education, shelter, food, transportation, gender equality, child welfare, financial inclusion, etc. Additionally, the country’s shipping system will undergo significant transformation with the Payra deep-sea port project. By launching Bangabandhu Satellite, the country has successfully claimed its own space, and it has been working well since its launch. Elevated Expressway construction is underway to relieve traffic congestion in the capital city and its surroundings. Moreover, the aviation industry of Bangladesh is taking a new shape with infrastructural and security developments. With the aim to facilitate the citizens and transform the fate of the country, the govt. of PM Hasina has worked relentlessly and no citizen denies the fact.
Addressing energy crisis:
In the last ten years, Bangladesh has made a lot of progress in this area by focusing on building capacity and expanding transmission and coverage. Just a few months ago, people believed that Bangladesh had put its history of power outages far behind it because it was meeting almost all of its power needs. Now, Bangladesh is becoming an electricity-hungry country as the world has seen a global energy crisis due to the Covid outbreak, extreme weather, growing economic recession, and obviously the Russia-Ukraine war. The global crisis exposed energy supply chain gaps. Compared to April 2020, the price of LNG has gone up eight times and the price of crude oil has gone up about five times.
In response to rising energy prices on the international market, the government has implemented initiatives as a part of its austerity measures to conserve fuel and power. Within the upcoming fiscal year, one of the Rampal coal-fired power plant’s units is anticipated to start operating. One unique slogan of the present government is “electricity for all.” Once completed, the Rooppur nuclear power station project and the Matarbari 1200 MW coal-fired power plant project will make a significant contribution to the fulfillment of this motto and contribute in fighting the ongoing energy crisis. Additionally, Bangladesh has signed MoU with Brunei to combat the energy crisis in Bangladesh.
IS BNP GEARING UP FOR NEXT NATIONAL ELECTION?
A crucial element of any election is the act of participation from all parties throughout the political spectrum. Both the 2014 and 2018 elections under the current regime fell short of becoming celebrations of democracy, as BNP, the main rival of the Awami League opted not to run in 2014. In the latter, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia was prohibited from the election due to legal convictions, which led the party to terrible electoral performance. PM Sheikh Hasina attempted to have dialogues in 2014 and 2018 about the elements of the government ahead of the elections for establishing a fair electoral process. Since August, we can see the change as BNP has been routinely presenting a range of programs. It is crucial for them to participate in the upcoming elections as they need to be in the election to sustain themselves in the national parliament.
Already, they have been unable to improve their image since the last election and attain public emotion. However, this time, party officials promised to organize peaceful protests including rallies and processions. “Although four of our leaders and activists were killed, we will not leave the streets. As a democratic party, we will continue to wage our peaceful and systematic movement,” Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku, BNP’s standing committee member stated.
However, they have been observed engaging in aggressive behaviour that is spreading unrest around the country. They are accused of using the sufferings of the public to achieve their political agenda. BNP unveiled a new initiative in September. In that context, on December 10, a sizable rally in Dhaka will mark the conclusion of this three-month program. The party intends to continue its campaign till the upcoming national parliamentary elections.
HEATED POLITICS WITH AN ELECTION AHEAD
Since August 22, the BNP has organized protests across the nation over the increase in the cost of fuel and necessities. BNP has debated expanding the protests to cities, divisional headquarters, and districts in order to maintain their presence on the streets because they view the ongoing national protest programs as a “success.”
BNP supporters have recently clashed over political issues, intensifying the political situation in the nation. During the time of global crisis, where the world along with Bangladesh is facing challenges, BNP has been creating chaos in the name of protests. Instead of dealing with the crisis for the betterment of the nation, BNP has been continuously uttering provocative, anti-govt. and bewildering statements, which is causing unrest and resentment among the citizens. Obaidul Quader, the general secretary of the AL, claimed a few months back that the BNP is planning scheming plots to inflame the political climate in the nation in an attempt to establish a national government. He added,
“Each BNP leader is speaking in different tones at different times. In the name of the election-time government or neutral government or sometimes a national government, they are hatching deception to heat up the political ground, which will never succeed.”
The BNP has allegedly been engaging in chaos in the name of the movement, according to the AL. However, BNP claimed that in August, over 700 party leaders and activists were detained, and 50 cases were brought against them. BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir criticized the administration for undermining the party’s non-violent initiatives and holding party officials, leaders, and activists accountable in “false and fraudulent” instances. A political maneuver has been used to periodically back down and restricts the programs of BNP to avoid violence. But a much tougher stance has been taken about the meetings outside of Dhaka as the opposition party gets more violent. In fact, the police opened fire to control the situation.
In a recent general meeting held by BNP caused panic among the citizens living in Khulna, for which the workers had stopped the transport service. The opposition party blamed the govt. for cutting the transport system in Khulna. Whereas, Obaidul Quader has confirmed that the government did not restrict the BNP rally and said, “The government did not give any order to stop the transport, but the workers stopped the bus movement for the sake of their lives”.
POLITICAL UNCERTAINTY AHEAD OF DECEMBER 10 BNP CONVENTION
Politics is getting heated up in the lead-up to the BNP convention on December 10 in Dhaka. Begum Khaleda Zia, chairperson of BNP, will join the rally. Tariq Rahman will reportedly return to the nation on December 11, according to the middle leaders of the party. Senior executives assert, however, that deadlines do not cause progress. They claim that the government will be dismissed from the Dhaka demonstration with a red card. Program changes will be made. In several rallies, BNP has been attacking the present govt. by saying infuriating statements.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir addressed the present government in a protest and said, “Leave with respect. If you don’t go, then the people of this country know how to change.” Amanullah Aman stated in another occasion that the nation would not abide by Sheikh Hasina’s words after December 10.
After December 10 the nation will be guided by Khaleda Zia’s remarks. On the other hand, Awami League’s general secretary, Obaidul Quader, declared that there will be a street-level conflict, but the actual confrontation won’t happen until December. In another event, Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury, a member of the Awami League presidency said, “The BNP will not be permitted to leave any location throughout the month of victory. It’s our respected month.”
Because of the political fervour generated by the BNP’s program for its general meeting on December 10 in Dhaka, the topic of the divisional assembly has been overshadowed and increasing the political pressure. Now, Awami League is gearing up the party for the upcoming presidential election. The party has made the decision to take the field in response to opposition misinformation. The district, Upazila, and Thana conferences are currently in their final stages.
FEAR OF INSTABILITY GROWS, AL SENSES VIOLENCE
To achieve political dominance, hundreds of opposition party activists have indulged in conflict with the police recently. Several lives have already lost in recent conflicts in various regions, causing widespread concern. Section 144 was imposed in eight Upazilas to prevent the chaos caused by the opposition faction. A confrontation between BNP activists and police took place in Narayanganj on September 1 and resulted in death of one person and injuries to numerous others. Law enforcers attempted to stop BNP activists from holding a protest, which led to the altercation. On September 8, a fight broke out between the party members and police after the law enforcers attempted to prevent a BNP protest rally – leaving 50 including 21 policemen hurt.
Another BNP protest rally in Munshiganj on September 20 resulted in a conflict that left one person dead and at least 50, including 30 policemen, hurt. A section of the people think that political disturbance on the street has helped worsen traffic congestion in the capital – adding to the woes of general public. There are sometimes chases and counter-chases between party activists and police centring over the holding of political programmes.
Many worry that opposition party activists may engage in more violent confrontations as the country swings to election mode. BNP leaders and activists held a gathering on September 29 in the capital’s Hazaribagh – thereby carrying bamboo sticks and tiny clubs. Some of the sticks had small national flags fastened to their ends. They appeared in a number of processions while carrying bamboo and sticks. AL Presidium Member Dr Abdur Razzak said, “They (BNP leaders) have already held quite a few programmes. But the way they are entering the field with sticks and disrespecting the national flag by tying it to the sticks shows that there is a conspiracy to disrupt the situation. This cannot be accepted.”
To wrap up, people of the country, following the his – tory of political fracas by the opposition BNP, are get – ting afraid of further chaos as they look forward to the ensuing national elections with heightened political activities in recent weeks. BNP’s groundwork for elections may be the rightful decision of the party, but inciting unrest will be difficult to swallow with the next national parliamentary elections in view.
It would have been appreciated by the nation only if BNP could join the next election without violence, and hold rallies peacefully. The whole world is facing a crisis sparked by warlike violence. Adding more to the existing woes won’t make the situation any better. Instead, sitting with the authorities about holding a peaceful election, contributing towards solving problems, and acting responsibly towards the country might be beneficial for the image of the party as well as the general populace of the country.