Hell, it's about time!
This is the culmination of a very long wait. The elections were supposed to have been held in 2006, after a 5-year term by the Bangladesh National Party (BNP)-Jamaat-e-Islaami alliance. They delayed it until the very end of 2006, and by attempting to doctor the Election Commission, sparked nationwide protests and violence which cost lives.
Never a dull day in Bangladeshi politics.
The caretaker government took over in Jan. 2007, and promised free and fair elections by the end of calendar year 2008. And by golly gee, they delivered. Elections on Dec. 29th, 2008. Cutting it a little close, hey?
A lot has been achieved in the past year. A digitized national voter list, which is supposed to, in theory, lessen the impact of vote fraud, and new election campaigning rules which has made life a lot easier for businesses and commerce to continue in the midst of the changeover.
I have a few predictions. These are casual, by-stander predictions, and are at best, guesstimates. I'm not an analyst, but I feel the winds on the ground, and if I see the clouds on the horizon, it's reasonable for me to think there's rain a-comin'.
1. The Awami League will win.
5 years of the BNP-Jamaat's hardline right-wing politics has left people a bit angry, so I imagine a lot of people will sway the Awami League way, just to spite the BNP-Jamaat.
But the Awami League is left-leaning, so I'm not sure what to make of their victory, if they do win. But in today's world, it doesn't matter which way you lean. India and China has shown the developing world which way works best, and when it comes right down to it, the policies of increased trade liberalization, deregulation and decentralization will continue no matter who comes into power.
The Awami League has been in power in the late 90s, and they did a terrible job of it. But people remember with more clarity the mess-ups of the BNP right now, so I think the negative sentiment will buoy the Awami League.
In 2001, the BNP-Jamaat alliance got a very strong mandate from the people. There probably was lots of vote rigging and vote buying at the time (I can't say for sure, I didn't follow it that much at the time), but you can't rig your way to a win of the magnitude that was recorded. So the Awami League is certainly no panacea.
But I still think they'll win. That's the way the wind is blowing now.
2. Lots of people will vote blank votes.
That is actually allowed this time, the no-confidence vote. I think a lot of people will, and that will indicate very powerfully how jaded a lot of people have become about politics in Bangladesh. Neither of these parties have delivered sufficient results, and the steady clip of 6% GDP growth over the past few years has been despite the government, not because of.
3. Jamaat-e-Islaami will possibly lose a bit of their votes, or gain a little bit, but not move much on the electoral map.
For the record, I'm not a fan.
They have a terrible human rights record when it comes to ethnic minorities (the Hindus and the Ahmediyyas in particular), they're holding back the emancipation of women in Bangladesh, a very important facet of social and economic reform, and I feel that they are complicit in some of the terrorism in Bangladesh with vitriolic sermon rhetoric.
But their support base is deeply entrenched, people who believe it is their duty to "save Islam" as Khaleda Zia put it in one of her speeches. As if Islam somehow needs to be saved.
Do I wish I were wrong?
If I had a wish, then I'd wish the Jamaat-e-Islaam voter base decreases in size dramatically. It would prompt them to do some soul-searching, and maybe some young'uns can come forward with a better strategy for a new age. Chances of that happening? Very, very little. Arguably many of the young'uns coming out of the Jamaat are as extreme, if not more extreme than their aged counterparts. And religious sentiments run deep and strong, and you can't reason someone out of an opinion they came to through emotion.
Since I'm wishing, I also hope the no-vote category is very large this time around, and that the Awami League still win. A large no-vote would signal to the political parties a large bank of potential votes that they may try to woo through proper social, political and economic progress.
And I'm not into ponies, so really, I wish for a warp-10 Galaxy-class starship with transporter and holodeck capabilities.