How to save money and save lives
By nature I am a fiscal conservative. Hence, it baffles me as to why Bangladesh -- not yet quite the second Singapore being promised by the rulers -- is bothering with an “election” that is costing the national treasury hundreds of millions.
Let us be perfectly candid: Never in the history of Bangladesh has a political government presided over an election that it has lost … and this is not going to change by some magic this Christmas.
Not only is this a function of the normal human greed for power when left unchecked, but also of a structure of government where every member of the election commission, every magistrate, every police commissioner, every High Court judge, and every returning officer is ultimately appointed by the prime minister (sometimes through the silly artifice of “advice to the president,” with the president constitutionally bound to follow that advice), who just happens to be on the ballot. Nowhere in the actual democratic world is all source of every iota of authority literally vested in one person.
Despite the almost comic attempts of self-described analysts on the air and in print to prognosticate with data and statistics like their counterparts do in actual democracies, the harsh truth is that none of that matters a whit, with each day providing compelling evidence of the reality. By the time you read this, almost every candidate of the main opposition would have been assaulted or arrested, his or her motorcades and campaign offices destroyed, and tens of thousands of opposition canvassers locked up or brutalized for attempting to hold peaceful rallies or communicating via posters and placards, all the while the police-protected ruling party candidates go about campaigning with gusto … a campaign they, ironically, don’t need to win.
An impotent Election Commission will still be “investigating” while BCL vigilantes and police beat opposition canvassers to pulp and the similarly “neutral” judiciary will, at best, issue rules returnable long after the elections.
We will even likely see the spectre of some sole-proprietor “reputable polling company” based out of Virginia which will predict almost exactly the share of votes the rulers will get, all with “scientific precision as taught at Harvard.” All the while, the usual chetona affiliated journalists will be telling us how men like Kader “Tiger” Siddique and Dr Kamal Hossain are somehow razakars and therefore deserve to be denied the chance to seek votes.
The diplomats from the Russia-friendly Trump administration and those of the feckless United Kingdom and Europe will issue some meaningless note of concern and go about their business while there will be a huge sigh of relief in New Delhi.
This is not rocket science; we saw this story play out almost to the proverbial “t” in Zimbabwe in the brutality of its 2013 “free elections.” We might as well accept it with the admission that the global tide of autocracy sheathed in democratic symbols and wielded by cheap nationalists has come to stay at the high mark in Bangladesh for the foreseeable future.
Who are we kidding with all this phony euphoria and manufactured prognostications and analysis? Those are about as good as, and far costlier than, similar exercises on state-controlled media in the former Soviet bloc in Eastern Europe.
For all intents and purposes, Bangladesh is a one-party state, in culmination -- albeit delayed through historical twists and turns -- of the dreams that the ruling party had announced in 1975 during its first stint in power.
A few signboard parties are allowed a few morsels of the meal of power as long as, again in true Soviet-bloc style, they firmly accept the vanguard role of the ruling party. Any real opposition may be allowed to sign up for elections to keep up the illusion of democratic norms, but the idea of that opposition campaigning for votes, let alone winning, is simply not part of the unwritten constitution in post-2009 Bangladesh. After all, even North Korea has two other parties, in addition to the ruling communists!
Let us call a spade a spade: The only thing the December 30 elections are guaranteed to produce is a huge dent in the national exchequer and thousands of casualties of innocent men and women who were led to believe that they could go about asking for votes for their candidate in peace.
There is no dishonour in admitting defeat against overwhelming odds when every element of state power -- administrative, judicial, police, and vigilante -- is against you and the denizens of the democratic world have chosen to be complicit in your helplessness by keeping substantively quiet.
Save money and save lives, because December 31 will see no change in rulers in Dhaka.
Esam Sohail is a college administrator and lecturer of social sciences. He writes from Kansas, USA. He can be reached at [email protected]