As the next parliamentary election in Bangladesh draws closer, the excitement among the people is growing, along with questions about how well it will align with their expectations. While it is officially the twelfth general election, it holds significant importance as the first national election in the post-COVID-19 era, marked by a shifting global political landscape with a focus moving from the Middle East to Eastern Europe following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In this increasingly interdependent and interconnected world, no country can remain isolated from these changes, and Bangladesh is no exception.
The evolving international political scene is having a profound impact on regional politics, making it more relevant than ever for Bangladesh. This is evident in the country’s ongoing experiences in international relations.
As the election approaches, many questions arise. Can this upcoming election usher in a new government for Bangladesh? Can it free the nation from the shadow of past allegations of voterless elections, violence, and corruption? Will it be a genuinely participatory election with all political parties involved? Many believe that if the election is conducted differently from the ones in 2014 and 2018, the current government’s chances of returning to power are slim. In that case, who will come to power?
While it is premature to determine whether BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) has reclaimed its role as the epicenter of national politics, recent political activities indicate that the party has awakened from its slumber.
Anti-government rallies and grassroots engagement suggest that the party is gaining momentum.
BNP, a significant player in Bangladesh’s political history, has faced criticism and skepticism about its capacity to function as a robust opposition party safeguarding democracy, given its long absence from state power. However, its supporters argue that the criticism largely stems from a media landscape perceived to favor the ruling Awami League.
Debates surround BNP’s decision not to participate in the 2014 elections and its choice to engage in the 2018 polls under the government’s framework.
Some argue that a popular political party should systematically pursue victory through elections, while others believe that if it perceives election engineering and the misuse of state machinery, it is normal for the party to lack confidence in the electoral process.
The primary grievances that have led BNP to take to the streets are widely known. These include an absence of a level playing field and a caretaker government, the election commission’s perceived subservience, restrictions on opposition political parties’ campaigns, attacks on their communication channels by the ruling party, rising commodity prices, the widespread use of lawsuits and arrests against opposition leaders and activists, and the extensive politicization of the administration.
Following the fall of military dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad’s autocratic rule, there was hope among the people that democratic practices would flourish. However, successive governments’ tendencies to concentrate state power in the name of democracy left many disillusioned. This trend has allowed opportunists to manipulate politics, a phenomenon not unfamiliar in the course of Bangladesh’s history, including the Liberation War.
The division over political ideologies has led to a troubling scenario where those who oppose the government’s policies, regardless of their political affiliation, are labeled as anti-liberation or anti-Islamic forces. This division has created a rift in society, making it difficult to maintain the spirit of Liberation War and religious harmony.
It is imperative to hold free and fair elections to uphold democracy. When democracy falters, it opens the door to foreign interventions, extremism, and separatist movements. We have witnessed this in various countries, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, and beyond.
Bangladesh’s politicians must recognize that in the current global order, they must conduct elections that meet minimum international standards. This is crucial to maintain a knowledge-based and vibrant society, free from extremism and separatism.
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