I’m leaving today to go to Cambodia, and will return to Bangladesh on the 22nd of January, the scheduled date of the national election. I fear that when I return it could be to a very different country.
With just over two weeks left to go, things are in turmoil. We’re all over the main news agencies; the BBC story is here. The main Awami League opposition and its allies have declared they will boycott the polls because the election won’t be free and fair. They’re staging huge blockades of Dhaka and other main towns until things change, demanding that the election is postponed.
The BNP and the allegedly pro-BNP President are insisting that the election must be held by the 25th, which is the 90 limit set by the Constitution. The army have been mobilised to ‘secure’ the country and stop the protests which the opposition are staging, as they’re ‘protests against the democratic process’.
I’ve already written about my position on the elections and the destruction of the term ‘constitutional’. But events are fast developing in to a total farce, and tradgedy. The insistence on holding the election within 90 days is causing the country to lurch like a speeding bus full of innocent people towards a precipice on the 22nd, with the blind stubborness, greed and ineptitude of the political leaders, driving the bus, possibly taking the country over the edge.
The Electoral Commission, with 14 days to go, still doesn’t know the total number of eligible voters. Nor has it a final list of candidates, parties competing, or polling stations. To cap it off, the Electoral Commission will use three voter lists on the 22nd. They are clearly not ready, and under these circumstances, the election can only be a sham.
The European Union “calls on all political parties and stakeholders in the Bangladesh election process, including the Caretaker Government and the Election Commission, to work urgently and cooperatively towards a solution which meets the rights and expectations of the people of Bangladesh and which satisfies international democratic standards”. The US has essentially said the same thing. Hundreds of election monitors are coming to Bangladesh to observe, but you could stay at home and see that it’s not going to be free and fair.
So, when I come back, the evening of the election, I will hold my breath and hope that things have been resolved. I’ll hope that all parties who want to compete have done, because they believe that it’s worth competing. Because they believe the people of Bangladesh deserve better, that the people deserve to have political leaders fighting for the people’s interests, rather than their own.