Is the Democratic System a Pathway of Autocratic Rule Shah Mahmud Niaz
In a landmark judgment in 2011, Bangladesh’s Supreme Court stated that next two general elections could be held under the non-partisan caretaker government “for the sake of safety of the state and its people.” However, ignoring the Supreme Court’s concern for Bangladesh’s safety and security, general election is going to be held for the second time in Bangladesh with Awami League led government still in power. A glimpse of the recent past can reveal why the apex court of the country could not rely on the ruling party when there was question of safety of Bangladesh and its 180 million citizens.
Eliminating the key opposition leaders, Awami League led government started calculated violence against the opposition leaders and workers
After transition to democracy, Bangladesh first saw general election under a partisan government on January 5, 2014. Boycotted by most of the major political parties, the election was arranged without dissolving the Awami League led parliament. This was not only a controversial election, as Awami League and its allies were elected in 154 out of 300 seats uncontested, but also one of the bloodiest elections in the history of Bangladesh. The election was preceded by widespread persecution of the political opponents. On 2013, three opposition leaders were hanged to death by the highly controversial “International Crimes Tribunal”. Several other leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment and two of them died in jail. Regarding this tribunal, Brad Adams, Director of the Asia Branch of Human Rights Watch said, “The trials against the alleged war criminals are deeply problematic, riddled with questions about the independence and impartiality of the judges and fairness of the process.”
Eliminating the key opposition leaders, Awami League led government started calculated violence against the opposition leaders and workers. In several instances, police and ruling party cadres opened fire at the opposition rallies. At least 153 opposition activists were killed in such street violence after declaration of the election schedule on November 27, 2013. On December 26, 2013, when the opposition alliance announced that they would organize a procession called “March for Democracy”, 203 opposition leaders were immediately arrested. On December 29, just a day before the “March for Democracy” more than 1000 BNP-Jamaat leaders were arrested by the law enforcement agencies and the chairperson of the alliance, Begum Khaleda Zia, remained house-arrested for the rest of the days before the election. And, on the day of election, at least 21 people were killed; over 100 polling centers were set on fire (most of which were educational institutions) during post-poll clashes. This miserable failure to maintain law and order during the polls also triggered violent communal riots in several districts making thousands of minority people homeless.
There is no doubt that the 11th general election has proved that any election under any political party can no way be fair
In this way, playing mockery with the concept of democracy, Awami League led government grabbed the power at the cost of the people’s constitutional right to vote. Just like the 10th, general election, upazila election and mayoral elections of the city corporations were held under Awami League government with similar consequences. Mayoral elections were marred by blatant irregularities such as vote rigging, intimidation of voters and press, boycotting and vote manipulation. On the other hand, in two phases of Upazila elections, at least 36 people were killed during post-election violence in different places of the country. Elections under Awami League government have always been marred by anarchy and blood bath where opposition parties are simply thrown out of the contest through sheer intimidation and persecution. There is no doubt that the 11th general election has proved that any election under any political party can no way be fair. This is an unexpected and unprecedented example in the world that a political party can come to power by manipulating democratic system, or a democratic system can be the stair of establishing authoritarian rule or regime.
The writer is an independent Political Analyst