Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bangladeshi Election Turmoil

The Bangladesh National Party's (BNP) 4-Party Alliance is making a list of 4 demands of the Election Commission (EC). In summary, they are:

1. Lift the State of Emergency
2. Remove some clauses in the amended Representation of the People Order (RPO)
3. Defer Upazila (municipal) elections for a month after the parliamentary polls
4. Reschedule polls to ensure Hajis can cast their votes

Lift the State of Emergency

This makes sense and warrants consideration, and the Caretaker Government is already considering this. The Caretaker Government has reason to be skeptical. The two parties have a penchant for street protests that turn ugly very frequently, and none of these parties have signed off on any common agreement to stop economically disruptive protests (hartal). But an election under what is effectively martial law isn't exactly what I would call ideal.

The State of Emergency has been a Godsend for these 2 years for many people on the ground. The streets haven't been all that much safer, and although the military has come in with its fair share of heavy-handedness, businesses have generally functioned without let or hindrance. Perhaps I'm damning it with faint praise but it could've been a lot worse.

Remove some clauses in the amended RPO

The RPO, first enacted in 1972 is generally a good piece of legislation from what I understand. The legislators from our "founding fathers" were a competent bunch, from the rich tradition of the Pakistan Civil Service and before that, the British Civil Service. 3 parliamentary elections have been held under it so far, as well as a few military dictatorships thrown into the mix (we are a sub-continental country, after all). And some of the amendments made to it this year by the Caretaker Government have also been good, like barring anyone who hasn't paid their utility bills from contesting (you'd think that was obvious).

But as usual, the military's heavy-handedness has to eventually cut through. It's like they get a sense that they're doing well, then suddenly get over-enthusiastic and overshoot. I'm fuzzy on the details here, but it seems like they've added a clause barring teachers from running for public office. I think their intention may be to separate the universities from politics, but this policy sounds heavy-handed (my favorite word for this post).

Let's not forget, the Caretaker Government was the one that tried to put price controls in the telecommunication industry, probably the only sector in Bangladesh that is working perfectly well and serving the population for the collective good, under free-market capitalism.

Defer Municipal Elections for a Month after Parliamentary Polls

I'm not exactly sure as to the reasoning for this, but it's possible they're trying not to over-extend the Election Commission. But with proper management it's possible to vote on more than one thing at a time. Americans in the recent presidential elections very controversially voted for a black president, and voted against gay marriage rights, among other things. This was all on the same ballot.

The big caveat here is that it needs organization and management.

Reschedule Polls to Ensure Hajis Can Cast Their Votes

This is simply preposterous. The BNP and her Jamaat allies have become masters at playing the religion card.

There are no more than 50,000 pilgrims going on the Hajj from Bangladesh according to revised, lower Saudi quotas this year for Bangladeshis. Out of an approximately 80 million-strong voter roll. That's 0.06% of the electorate, and that fraction is probably smaller when you factor in voter turnout.

If their vote is so crucial (which I don't think it is), then the 4-party alliance should have raised this before. After all, we've known elections would be held at the end of 2008 for more than 18 months now. The Election Commission would have evaluated accepting absentee ballots (something I would very much like) for the pilgrims, in that case. If we don't have the capacity to handle absentee ballots, which the Election Commission has already announced, then I don't see a way out.

I don't think this request should be entertained. But then, what do I know about politics in a country I never lived in. The BNP is a monolith in the political landscape, outsized only by its counterpart, the Awami League. If they sneeze, everybody gets wet.


About Me

My photo
I write essays in my spare time on things that are important to me. The ones that I feel are any good, or make any sense, I put them up here. :)