Please do not hold Jan 5 polls

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We had made this “Appeal” last Friday, with a detailed explanation as to the reasons why and the likely consequences of status quo of the political situation. (Read “An Appeal to the EC and the PM” published on Dec 27, 2013)
Today, as we look towards the New Year, and as we are overwhelmed by the fear of the continued political stand off causing greater violence and loss of life, and the economy being made to suffer more debilitating losses which may lead to its near collapse, we feel compelled to reiterate our “Appeal”.
This we do as our duty to strengthen democracy, people’s faith in our Constitution, and voters’ faith in the election process. We also do so to prevent the impending disaster likely to befall the economy if the political unrest continues.
Our last Friday’s Appeal (abridged) contained the following points:
A. The EC and the ruling party should desist from holding the election on 5th Jan. 2014. Legal grounds may be found to hold it within the next 90 days.
B. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina may advise the President to reconvene the 9th Parliament and work out a consensus for an all-party polls-time government headed by the President.
C. If the 9th Parliament is reconvened for the above purpose then the opposition must join without preconditions and must commit to participate in the elections and also call off all sorts of hartals, aborodhs and related programmes.
D. Jamaat’s participation must be conditional in compliance with the High Court verdict.

Why should Awami League and the PM consider doing the above?
1. Since 153 MPs have already been elected without any vote being cast and since the results of the remaining 147 MPs are mostly known, the parliament and the government that the 5th January election will produce will be devoid of demonstrated public support and that crucial “popular mandate” that every democratic government must enjoy in order to govern effectively.
2. The Constitution clearly envisages an election that reflects “Peoples’ Will” as evidenced through adult franchise, which will be totally absent in this election.
3. The argument that this election has to be held to ensure Constitutional continuity and to prevent legal vacuum are both misplaced, ill conceived and may even be mischievous. A postponement of 90 days is possible well within the present legal framework. A reconvened 9th Parliament can address any legal lacunae if there are any.
4. A voter-less election will greatly corrode people’s confidence in the electoral process, thereby damaging people’s faith democracy.
5. The election will produce a virtual one-party government reviving public suspicion as to what Awami League’s real goal is. This suspicion, which will appear well grounded, will significantly damage AL’s democratic credentials and reduce its image and appeal in the immediate and long term, affecting the party’s chances of winning a truly contested election in the future.
6. The future that AL is seeing for itself through the 5th Jan election is unsustainable and hence elusive. We repeat that once the election is over, voters who have not been able to vote will hold a ‘grudge’ against the ruling party and are likely to lend their sympathy, if not active support, to the opposition even though they may not support either their cause or the party. A sense of deprivation or of being ‘cheated’ out of their right to vote may motivate them to go against the present ruling party with disastrous consequences for the future.
7. Going for a credible election will help the Awami League much more than forcing a voter-less election on our people. It needs to regain its self confidence that it can win.
8. Awami League appears to have forgotten the basic psychology of our people, which is always against the establishment and a bit sympathetic towards the underdog. The government is strengthening the “underdog” image of the opposition through its all pervasive repressive measures. The deployment of police, BGB and Rab, the indiscriminate arrest of opposition leaders, the reckless harassment of the general public in the name of maintaining law and order, the obvious and blatant support that police and Rab are extending to ruling party activists, etc., are all adding to the sympathy for the ‘underdog’.
9. There is a real chance for a very low voter turn-out on Jan 5. Some overvalued party leaders and activists may fail to resist the temptation to try and hike up the number of voters casting their ballots. This may lead to spuriously hiking the numbers with some conniving election officials. This will lead to embarrassment and ignominy for the present ruling party for indulging in activities of the kind BNP fell victim to — such as the infamous Magura elections. Awami League should really try to avoid this possibility by desisting from holding the Jan 5 elections.
Whatever game plan the PM may have is unlikely to succeed as is evidenced by the following:
1. So far the government has failed to create a sense of confidence among the public about the credibility of the 5th. Jan. elections. In fact the very opposite has become the case. Even before it is held 52 per cent voters have been deprived of their right to vote. Which means that out of 9.2 crore more than 5 crore voters will not ‘own’ this election because they did not take part in it. This has already shattered the stature of the election as a credible process reflective of “People’s Will”.
2. Excessive police oppression and wholesale arrest, warrant issuance and case filing against the opposition leaders have totally destroyed election atmosphere, if there was any in the first place. BNP chief being confined in her house with hundreds of police and several trucks filled with sand to obstruct her movement has not helped lessen the credibility deficit of the election.
3. Ershad’s being kept in CMH and the attempt to split his party through Raushan Ershad has further destroyed the credibility of this election.
The ball, we say very clearly, is in the court of the government and the ruling party. It is our considered view that societal peace cannot be restored without political compromise. The opposition’s declaration of indefinite ‘aborodh’ on the very first day of the New Year is a sure sign of what is likely to come if no compromise is reached. Whatever the government does, and howsoever it tries to restore ‘peace’ through bigger and more armed police and Rab presence, normal life will only return when people will feel ‘safe’ enough to indulge in normal daily activities.
Of all the parties the Awami League should know all this well because it did exactly all this between 1994 and 1996 and enjoyed the advantages of the “underdog” status.
If there was ever a moment for our leadership to show ‘vision’ and ‘courage’ it is now and they can show it by opening a dialogue.
(Dear readers, we renew our “Appeal” with no illusion of being considered seriously. Already we have been called names and have been ridiculed. But we still do so as ‘hope springs eternal’ in our hearts and especially on the occasion of the New Year. We do so from our own sense of serving our people and the cause of democracy and, equally importantly, protecting our economy. We also do so from our belief that there is still time to stand back from the precipice of fearful uncertainty and hitherto unknown level of violence that may open up opportunities for extremism to enter our politics in ways that we believe neither of our big parties wants).

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