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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Opportunity and loss in the 2023 election

It is never too late for democracy's alchemy of accepted losses and humbling victories

Update : 05 Jan 2024, 01:19 AM

Before the first voter casts a ballot, too many fear that powerful people will have decided the outcome. The chance for a stronger democracy will be lost one more time. The bureaucratic merits of the election are a mere distraction for foreign observers. What the media report and the victors proclaim is not the accurate will of the people. 

What are the lost opportunity costs that may come due? Rigged elections erode public trust, delegitimize governance, and embolden despots abroad. Too many countries have witnessed their electoral system, once a beacon of hope, transformed into a tool of political exploitation. Democratic values wither as cynicism replaces faith in the process. Government officials prioritize loyalty over competence, further weakening accountability.

The 2014 and 2018 elections, marred by allegations of manipulation and the opposition's boycott, serve as grim premonitions for 2023. Observers predict the same one-sided contest where nitpicking technicalities obscures the very essence of democracy -- the right to choose. The reasons for the one-sided contest are not just the persecution and bans. The government and opposition both conclude that victory is more important than democratic participation.

The fallout from this election could be far-reaching. Apathy and disillusionment will cripple voter turnout, further entrenching political polarization and the threat of violence. 

Bangladesh faces international isolation, shunned by allies who champion democratic values. Economic and social development may stagnate as powerful interests, unchecked by genuine opposition, pursue their agenda, deaf to the public's concerns about poverty, inequality, and environmental degradation.

The most significant lost opportunity confronts the prime minister. Through endurance over decades, she has achieved the chance to reach out and unite the nation. Most political leaders inherit the task of bringing their party to power. The current prime minister, who bears the legacy of Bangabandhu and has served longest as Bangladesh’s chief executive, faces a greater responsibility -- to unify Bangladesh as a democratic nation, the goal of its constitution. What has she done with this precious opportunity? She answers now to the yet-to-be-written history of Bangladesh and its heroic arc of unity and liberty.

The prime minister remains personally popular, and there is no other comparable and fit leader on the political horizon. Her choice is whether history records 2023 as the year unity and democracy took root anew, or the slide continued into disunity. A legacy records only the result, not the intent, of a leader. A path back must start where it began in the house of the people.

The path forward lies not in orchestrated victories, but in the open doors of the Jatiya Sangsad inviting a free and vibrant opposition to take its rightful place. It is never too late for democracy's alchemy of accepted losses and humbling victories.

Owen Lippert is a researcher and activist with expertise in Asian countries.

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