Hollow victory

Bangladesh’s just concluded tenth general election was not just its most violent but also, it lacked credibility. A boycott call by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led opposition left just the Awami League (AL), the Jatiya Party and independents in the electoral fray. In the circumstances the AL’s victory was inevitable. There was no contest in around 153 constituencies, which means that over half the number of people sitting in the new parliament were not elected.

Voter turnout was abysmally low, raising serious questions over the legitimacy of the new legislature. The AL enjoys a three-fourths majority in parliament but there is little reason for the party to celebrate as the mandate it received is at best hollow. Although the decision to hold elections was not unconstitutional, it was a political blunder. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina may be back in the saddle but her victory is at best a pyrrhic.  Despite the overwhelming majority the AL enjoys it is unlikely to complete its term. Indeed, it may survive just a few months. The Opposition is expected to step up its protests in the coming weeks. The ensuing turmoil could prompt Hasina to use extreme force to quell the unrest. It was over the question of the nature of an interim government overseeing elections that the present deadlock emerged. Hasina and the BNP’s Khaleda Zia can be expected to reiterate old positions. Their parties must force the two to put aside their personal rivalry and vendetta politics to hammer out a compromise. 

Unrest over the past year has cost Bangladesh dearly in terms of human lives. The non-stop blockades imposed by the opposition have hit badly the supply lines of the garment industry, Bangladesh’s main foreign exchange earner. Strikes have driven upwards the prices of essential commodities, hitting the household budget of the poor and middle-class. If the opposition intensifies its strikes and shutdowns, daily wage labour will suffer immensely. Bangladesh is therefore headed towards economic crisis.

While the military is said to be averse to intervening, it could do so should the political turmoil persist. It has in the past and Bangladeshis must bear in mind that once the generals step into the political arena, they have always been reluctant to leave. This should force the AL and the BNP to reach a consensus solution immediately. 

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