As BNP's leadership keeps moving the higher courts to get bail for Khaleda Zia, an accused in the Zia Orphanage case, and trundles along the corridors of the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) for permission to hold a public rally, the ruling party keeps a stoic distance. This is as if to emphasise that “the law is taking its course.” Go to the courts or the DMP premises to get a reprieve like being set on bail or to receive a green light to hold a rally, respectively—seems to be the signal being put across!
Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) “grants” permission to hold public rally on a formal request by an interested party. It was thought to be a pro forma requirement in the past; but much has been made about it in recent years. The DMP is not only selective in its authorisation but also pre-emptive against a big opposition party intent on staging a public meeting lest it gets out of hand! Although this amounted to a denial of the democratic right to assembly and getting a political opinion across to the people, ruling parties almost without exception have used it to avert a perceived or real showdown.
When polarisation gets more intense than usual, an intimidation aspect may rankle that much more in the ruling party's mind.
On a side but important note, considering the severe traffic tailbacks triggered by large public rallies, both at the time of formation and dispersal, it is time we relocated sites for those massive public/political events away from the heart of the city.
Awami League, however, cannot afford to finalise its preparations to go to the polls exulting over Khaleda Zia being in prison or constraining BNP's political programmes to a minimum. Essentially, AL has to set its own house in order thrown in a disarray by internal squabbles and a tarred image owing to a plethora of scandals including in the financial sector.
Only last week the ruling party-supported lawyers' panel suffered defeat in the election to the Supreme Court Lawyers' Association. As something of a saving grace, AL panel secured a majority at the Dhaka Bar Council polls.
Earlier this month, in the Gaibandha Sundergang by-election which was not contested by BNP, Awami League candidate lost to Jatiya Party nominee. In the Rangpur City Corporation election, JP candidate defeated the AL contestant by a big margin.
Some analysts say that party policymakers wonder how much of the debacles in the polls reflect a fall in the popularity and how much can be ascribed to internal factions. Some AL enthusiasts are apt to hold up the defeats as proof of fair elections that the Election Commission is capable of delivering.
It is speculated that in the forthcoming Jatiya Sangsad election several ministers and MPs may not get party ticket for re-election. The AL leadership will have to look over their shoulder to make sure that the “frustrated” ones do not work against the interest of the final candidates. The Jubo League and Chhatra League elements who brought disrepute to the party need to be held in check.
The country has seen peaceful politics without hartal or blockade for a long time. Since those dark days of 2013 we have witnessed one full-day and three half-day hartals. These had also basically flopped. That is what a congenial environment is about, for incremental growth that has put us firmly on the trajectory of a middle-income country. The political parties will have to sustain the trend in concert.
We have learned to our regret that even participative and inclusive election had not proved enough to bring about a truly democratic-cum-welfare dispensation. Something that will draw upon a functional parliament; check and balance between the executive, judicial and legislative organs of the State; and economic and intellectual emancipation.
Yet, the fundamental prerequisite for meeting that overarching goal consists of an inclusive and participative election, the fairness of which would be ensured by an adequately reformed and independently working Election Commission.
The incumbent prime minister's steering of the economy to a new height and the stern manner in which she has carried forward the process of bringing the war criminals to justice are the hallmarks of a self-confident leader ready to rise to the occasion.
Shah Husain Imam is adjunct faculty at East West University, a commentator on current affairs and former Associate Editor, The Daily Star.