Fair election, fairy tales, and the fateful days ahead
Shahid Islam
24 Feb,2017

It’s time to chuckle, churn in dismay, and wait to see what happens next. The politics of the nation had entered another uncertain new phase with the composition of a new election commission (EC). No sooner the names of the CEC and four other ECs came to public spotlight, then the political chemistry began to change its colour and composure in an instant. Coming days will prove fateful.

While there are only hush-hush and non-corrosive qualms and criticisms involving the four ECs, the debate over the CEC has made the new EC the very first flashpoint of the new phase of a lingering political stalemate hampering for too long investment foreign and local, and, sowing seeds of gaping new vulnerabilities to inevitable law and order lapses. It’s a déjà vu once again, too soon.

Constitutional aberration

In 2006, tussle over the composition of the EC first, and then of the caretaker regime, led to another military intervention and the re-constitution of a caretaker regime that had overstepped its constitutional tenure, held an election not within the stipulated and statutorily mandatory 90 days; rather two years later.

If anything, the prolongation in power for over 700 days by a military-backed caretaker regime was the most searing aberration that neither the court, nor the new AL regime that came to power in its wake, bothered to justify, amend or incorporate in any of the constitutionally justified political narrative on which one must fall back for guidance in moments of crisis like the one the nation’s facing now.

Yet, never before, had there been an attempt by any government to make a CEC so controversial as to make it too arduous for his appointees, the President and the PM, to make a case in his favour in the public gallery. The newly-named CEC, KM Nurul Huda, is on record for having consummated two particular political feats that are distinctly unbecoming of someone desirous to hold the most sensible constitutional post of the nation, the EC, let alone commandeer the nation toward holding an acceptable and fair general election and claw the nation away from its existential, sultry stalemate.

In the final analysis, the scenarios look set to evolve with acute national security concerns which election-time anarchies proved in the past; despite the nation nearing its half-a-century of existence. In late 1990, electoral foul plays and the displayed malign intent of the regime led to a mass movement and successfully removed a military dictator. In 1996, if the BNP did not concede to the opposition demand to hurriedly install a caretaker government to ensure level playing field and avoidance of gerrymandering in polling, things could revert to its previous slot: another military intervention in politics.

What’s wrong with CEC?

The yardstick of the new CEC’s neutrality is his service dossier, which shows he’d landed up being an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) for his ‘rebellious’ roles in the 1996 public service rebellion stirred by former secretary and minister, Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, et al.
Even if that stigma is brushed aside for him being an officer from the 1973 admin service cadre in which the selection criteria was predicated by the necessity of the candidate being a freedom fighter, can he defend another major accusation that he ordered ‘throwing away’ of the picture of then elected Prime Minister, Khaleda Zia, from his office in Comilla where he served as the Deputy Commissioner?

As well, there are other more material, and justifiable, stigmas emerging in the mass and social media about the new CEC’s partisan indoctrination and brazen bias toward a particular political party; but those are not the staples we wish to grind over for now. What we must harp onto is that the alleged insubordination and insult hurled at the incumbent head of the government by a civil servant hardly makes him qualified to head the most sensitive constitutional seat of the nation, the CEC.

How did it happen?

The BNP had explained away this negative moral, legal and ethical shortfalls of the new CEC which it said was glossed over to ‘reflected the wishes of the PM.” Of course it did. The PM has only one other player in the political arena who can challenge her power, which is the BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia. Anyone possessing fiery grudges fueled by the whiffs of anger for being disciplined for an ‘inexcusable offense’ of showing disrespect and insubordination to the elected head of the government is more likely to be biased against the BNP, that’s a given, and, it certainly fitted and footed the PM’s bill. Many might call it punditry of politics, but that’s not what will quench the whetted desire of the masses.

The other major concern is the lack of perception within the incumbent AL-led regime about the consequences of the BNP and its allies once again pulling out of the electoral race. BNP leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi had politely beseeched the CEC to quit before taking oath of office to skirt off such a scenario. For argument’s sake, let’s hope that happens; given the CEC has turned well exposed to the blame of being a partisan element biased to the ruling party. Will the BNP then join the poll keeping the PM, her cabinet, and the parliament in existence to allow its competitors from the ruling parties to use the status of incumbency to fashion and influence election outcome?

Poll-time government

The other most crucible element is the composition of the election-time-regime and the executive layout of bureaucrats and law enforcers who shall execute and ensure electoral fairness. The EC’s existing power and mandate is good enough for now to organize the holding of a fair election by using the state-wherewithal that the laws had already vested on it, but the CEC can only ensure a label playing field by himself being neutral, and, guiding the executives and the law enforcers toward that goal.

Hence the final outcome of the month-long theatrics to cobble a search committee; the search committee launching further theatrics to court upon more civic society to look for the neutral mortals of the living genre; short listing of names without telling anyone the criteria used; and, finally, coming out with an ‘election time commander in chief’ who fumbles while fashioning and articulating words, yet whose razor-sharp eye looks make him look like someone curious and of much interest.

No one knows for sure who proposed this controversial persona to be the CEC. There are even reports of him being someone in the good book and in contact with a power without. These may be presumptions or rumours. But his proven record leads one to surmise ‘he’s not a politically neutral person’ per se; not of a kind that the ornate mahogany chair of the CEC can embrace without a repulse.

Politicians failing

As it unfolded, we observed with awe how our politicians are failing us once again. We also know our honourable President will do nothing to tell the newly-named CEC to step aside and name someone more neutral in the matrixes of perception and antecedent. We know as well that, this was a design to keep the BNP out of the election fray once again, to deny it of its deserved voting gains and resumption of power.

We further know the BNP may or may not be able to convince the government to ensure the very basics that can lure the party leaders and the activists to rushing to the hasting under the current set up of the EC, and the poll-time incumbency of the AL. What we know not is why this country is so helpless before the personal and filial antagonism of the two personas who had ruled it for the better part of its history only to stymie the growth of new leadership. This is the quibble making the new generation fazed and furious.

Besides, the fairy tales of the incumbent AL gifting the nation an inclusive and acceptable election is not cutting ice or striking chords either. A single mistake being capable in politics to swing the fate of a leader or its party to the extremity, the AL seems besieged by a ploy that, according to sources, saboteurs nudging mouse buttons from outside the bounds of national geography have plotted to keep this nation subdued and slumbered.

Idealism vs. idiosyncrasy

On the other hand, BNP is trying to cling onto its core ideal in a manner a chaste woman shield’s her piety after having lost all else.  Imbued by the multi-party democratic principles introduced by its founding leader, Ziaur Rahman, following the demise of the one - party rule in the post-1975 political trending, BNP had abstained from ‘staged’ elections in 1986, 1988 and 2014. It can afford many more.

No doubt, the setbacks and the collateral damages were, and will be, staggering for clutching onto such a principled stand. Yet, it’s a stand that is at the epicentre of its values and the most befitting one yet to ensuring the anchoring and the continuation of a liberal, pluralistic political culture in Bangladesh; without which the nation is bound to stagger amidst charging ahead with the zealotry and the dynamism being displayed by its budding business enterprises and the toiling workers at home and abroad. Finally, let’s not forget, Hasina and Khaleda are the two indispensable idols of this nation, without whom very little is there to bank onto.

We therefore urge PM Hasina to advise the President to name a new CEC to prove her sincerity and clean-slated patriotism as the first bait to lock Madam Khaleda into the upcoming electoral battle.  That epic battle will constitute the much needed perception that Bangladesh has groomed and matured leaders and ideals which the future generation can emulate with firm convictions and head-high swagger. If not, no one will invest in this land and fewer little will look forward to healthy harvest and habitation.