Sep 10, 2014

Conciliation is desirable, not conflict

BNP has been making repeated threats to uproot the government by staging mass movements. However, the ruling party appears to be little concerned about this. Rather, some of the ruling party stalwarts have been enticing BNP by saying that it is incapable of waging a mass movement. Some have even been making explicit threats that the street agitation of BNP would be appropriately dealt with by the law enforcement agencies as well as the ruling party members.   
As citizens, we are seriously concerned about the threats and counter threats. BNP was not allowed to hold human chains on the street, not even an indoor meeting at the Engineers Institute. Based on such experiences, it is clear that if BNP announces a peaceful political programme, the law enforcement agencies would prevent it. If BNP announces hartal or siege, the government would take severe repressive measures which might lead to violence. Consequently, the lives and properties of innocent people would be at stake.

Our political parties normally display their strength by unleashing violence on the street, which has been becoming more destructive over time with the misuse of official power by ruling parties. Due to continued politicization of the bureaucracy and law enforcement agencies by successive governments, the ruling party is now able to use the government's legitimate power to exercise illegitimate force against its political opponents. The attractiveness of using public servants against political opponents is that they can be used for both unleashing violence and filing cases against opponents, which has been increasingly happening in recent years. As a result, the ruling party cares little about BNP's repeated threats and may now arrogantly think it is invincible.    
In the interest of public safety and security, we are obviously opposed to BNP's threats of creating violence on the street and destroying people's properties. However, BNP's staying away from waging a street movement is not going to resolve the on-going political dispute, particularly relating to the January 5 election. Rather it may accentuate the problem, pushing us to an uncharted course.                                                                                                                                           
The principal reason behind the present political dispute is the one-sided and manipulated election of January 5. This is not a dispute between Awami League and BNP alone; the citizens of the country are also a part of it.  They feel disenfranchised and are very unhappy, although they do not want further violence and deterioration of law and order.  
In addition, BNP has little credibility with the neutral citizens who have not forgotten the excesses of the past BNP regime. To many of them, Awami League and its allies in the government have been merely continuing the transgression and misrule of the past BNP government, but with increased intensity. Furthermore, BNP's alliance with Jamat, its shaky position about the war-crimes trial and the practice of dynastic rule within the party have caused many to give up on the party.
Many people also do not think that merely holding a free, fair and inclusive election at this time would be a cure-for-all the ailments facing the country. They want sustainable solutions to the prevailing problems; along with a credible election they want substantive reforms in our electoral system, political parties and the constitution.
 However, BNP's incapacity to stage mass movement should not make Awami League feel safe and invincible. Because, not only is the 'birth' of the present government tainted, its activities of the last six months are also disappointing. The past misdeeds of the last Awami League government – corruption and criminalization, violence and human rights violations – are continuing as if with new vigor. If these persist, public support for the government will erode further, requiring it to use force and impinge on the rights of the citizens, the evidence of which is already apparent in some of its recent decisions. With the concentration of power in one individual, the thumping majority in the parliament and no opposition of any significance, the government's ability to indulge in excesses has increased. In the words of Lord Action, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. However, history teaches us that no government anywhere could stay in power forever by using force. Therefore, the present situation in the country is potentially unstable and unsustainable.
There is also another ground for this potential unsustainability. Some ruling coalition leaders have been claiming that democracy has become consolidated through January 5 elections. Some of them even think that the election has paved the way for creating 'democratic dictatorship' in the country. However, we feel that the so-called election has ushered in a type of 'toxic democracy', which may not only harm the ruling party but may also lead to the failure of democracy.
The effectiveness of a state depends on the effectiveness of its institutions as well as the prevailing rules and procedures. According to one of our former chief justices, our judicial arena was devastated by a severe 'cyclone'. Our Election Commission, the bureaucracy and law enforcement agencies are to a great extent functioning like the ruling party's affiliated organizations. The ACC has not yet been able prove its unquestioned neutrality. Various attempts are already underway to curtail the freedom of the media and the civil society. If these institutions lose their effectiveness further, there may be serious problems in the country.   
Given the situation, we urge the opposition political parties to stay away from violent movement. We request the government to engage in dialogue to resolve the disputes. If the ruling party feels that they are now in a stronger position, it would be prudent for them to engage in dialogue with the opposition political parties from that strong position.
Published: September 09, 2014

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