All indications suggest that the main opposition (outside parliament) BNP will not make the same mistake, like they did in pulling out of the last 10th parliamentary election. The signals coming out from the BNP high command seem genuine.
Recently, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina called upon former PM Khaleda Zia to participate in the next general election in order to restore a genuine contested democratic process in the country. The nation also agrees with the PM’s call that this time, BNP must remain in the race.
Having said that, keeping a close eye on Bangladesh’s three Ds -- development, democracy, and decentralisation -- over the last 25 years is a wise move.
The writer is not a stranger to the three Ds research, having published several books, journal articles, book chapters, and numerous op-eds over the last two decades, analysing them and their challenges.
Voters in democratic nations, mature or otherwise, normally have short memories.
The most important factors for them are satisfaction levels and confidence in the electoral process, and future expectations of the electorate.
In other words, election year sweeteners by the incumbent are very important factors. We have not yet seen any such sweetener from the AL-led government. Contrarily, the recent budget gives a controversial signal to the voters surrounding VAT and excise on bank deposits prior to the election year. This is unprecedented.
In contrast, BNP has made known to voters that they have a grand plan for the nation, which was circulated in their Vision 2030 manifesto.
The Vision 2030 by now has been reviewed and counter-reviewed by many commentators, and some are of the view that this document is not all that different from the incumbent’s Vision 2021.
Borrowing each others’ policies, apparently for creating confusion, is a common practice of all democratic nations.
The AL is confident that the voters will not desert them after enjoying the fruits of all those mega development projects implemented in the present term
For example, in a mature democracy like Australia, it has been witnessed recently that the incumbent accommodated (borrowed?) the opposition’s policies and sometimes, it is very difficult to make distinctions between them in areas like education, migration, and energy sectors.
The unwritten bipartisan approach of course brings stability and sustainable progress for a nation.
Under these developments, where do the voters stand? It has been clear since 1991 that Bangladeshi voters do not like to give consecutive terms to any political party under a contested election process, unlike India.
Of course, the 10th parliamentary election was an exception (the 14-party alliance led by the AL had no choice). The nation has witnessed that alternative governments were in place in 1996, 2001, and 2008.
Certainly, there was a break of this trend in 2013.
With this new phenomenon, the incumbent AL and the opposition BNP are in great uncertainty in predicting how the floating voters would react in the next general election.
Presently, two claims are ripe in the two camps: The development spree of the government over last two terms -- most of which will be completed before the end of 2018 -- would be a great advantage for the AL-led alliance.
On the contrary, the BNP-led alliance is throwing weaknesses of the incumbent -- for example, land-grabbing, rampant corruption, the indifference of some MPs and ministers at work, and so on. With all these in mind, the floating voters of 11th parliamentary election would face a dilemma once they enter into the polling booth.
One, they would come across the “incumbency” factor taught in Politics 101. Since the AL-led alliance had two consecutive terms, it would be a major challenge for the AL to cross the line (theoretically speaking) due to the incumbency.
In reality, the present condition does not suggest any voter backlash towards AL. Why? The AL is confident that voters will not desert them after enjoying the fruits of all those mega development projects implemented in the present term, and many more which are in the pipeline.
Two, the factor that is likely to be a major challenge for the BNP-alliance to attract voters, is the so called Gen Y. The young generation, particularly the first-time voters, have not seen any of BNP’s political activities over the last five years.
Instead, they have witnessed the bit immediately after the 10th parliamentary election, how the BNP-led alliance turned the whole nation into an inferno.
Three, the voters will ask before going to polling centres: Is the BNP leader ready to govern again? Is Khaleda Zia up to it?
Let us say (for argument’s sake), the BNP crosses the finish line. Would Begum Zia become prime minister, or would she bring her son back from London to fill in the gap? In that case, certainly the voters would think twice to vote for BNP.
Bangladesh has come a long way since 1991, and time has come for the opposition to realise this. It does look like the party needs more time to stand on its own feet.
Borrowed politics cannot win elections.
Moazzem Hossain is a freelance contributor living in Brisbane, Australia.