The current political problem in Bangladesh is primarily one of imagination. Obviously, neither Khaleda Zia nor Sheikh Hasina will accept an option that is total defeat for them. However, a study of the priority of the two leaders may allow us to glimpse what s solution to the current, bloody impasse may look like.
If Sheikh Hasina currently allows an election, she will lose. She will hand over the government to BNP for the next five years. She will certainly face many uncomfortable cases and inquiries about the BDR massacre, the Padma Bridge controversy, the atrocities committed by RAB in the days leading to and the aftermath of the 2014 election, the Share Market scam, and so forth. Moreover, given the age of both these individuals, it is highly likely that this would be the last time they would face off. Hasina understandably does not want to end with a defeat.
On the other hand, even if hypothetically an election were to take place tomorrow, and BNP was to win the expected 250+ seats, it would very quickly find itself in a world of hurt. BNP has always been composed of two wings: the governance wing and the AL-lite wing. Ever since 2006, the governance wing has been badly worn down. The Chairperson’s faith in Rafiqul Islam Mian, Jamiruddin Sircar, M K Anwar, et al isn’t what it used to be. And there are too few Shamsher Mobin Chowdhurys and Salahuddin/Sabihuddin Ahmeds to fill the void. This is understandable, because BNP has now been in continuous war footing for the 9th year running. If we take Ershad’s ascension as the formal start of his dalliance with Awami League, then this is the longest stretch that a party has been in the role of the “Opposition”, faced with the full brunt of state savagery. It’ll take a while to reset from this to governance mode.
So, instead of worrying about the next one election, why don’t we set the time-table for the next two elections? Given the current mess we’re in, it’ll take everyone: BNP and the Twenty-Party Alliance, Gono Forum, Nagorik Oikko, Bam Morcha, and Awami League and the Fourteen-Party Alliance, to return to a state of stability. Why not agree that the parliament formed by the next election, which will probably be heavily dominated by BNP, will only endure for three months? Within these three months, the new parliament will set up a new mechanism for holding future elections, run it by the Appellate Division, and then resign. A second election will then be held under this new mechanism.
Why should Sheikh Hasina agree to this? She should take a lesson from Arafat Rahman’s funeral, and the lakhs (millions?) of people who showed up for it. The deceased had the bad fortune of probably being the non-Jamati Bangladeshi to have received the maximum amount of bad press in his life. While his elder brother had some people defending him now and then, he was a person about whom anyone could say anything without the fear of negative consequences. Ever. And boy, did they indulge themselves. Hasan Ferdous’ piece was in bad taste, extremely bad taste, but it was an accurate symptom of the frustration in the typical Awami mind at seeing an individual whom they had spent so much energy vilifying, getting such a send-off.
Plus, keep in mind that the resignation of Sheikh Hasina will probably herald the one event that will unify Dhaka’s elite completely and abashedly behind her, when our current He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Lord Voldemort/Tarique Rahman, returns to Bangladesh, and everyone suddenly remembers that all of Bangladesh’s ailments: past, present, and future, can be traced back to him. All of a sudden, Sheikh Hasina will start looking quite good by comparison.
So, here’s the crux. If an unsympathetic figure like the younger Mr. Rahman could be so quickly rehabilitated in the Bangladeshi psyche to such an extent, what is to stop Sheikh Hasina, who commands the allegiance of most of Bangladesh’s print and electronic media, to regain her public stature much faster? I mean, it’s true, the quickest way to gain popular sympathy in Bangladesh is to be in the opposition. And with a concerted campaign and some foresight, Hasina could be out of the doghouse much faster.
Let’s be very clear: the current situation is unsustainable. If Hasina survives the full-term, 2019 won’t be 1996 under Chief Justice Habibur Rahman. Hasina’s ministers are already talking about having 200 uncontested seats in the next election. By the time 2019 comes, the number will undoubtedly rise to 300. Our parliament will become a purely decorative one, like the ones present in Arab monarchies.
While it’s a little counterintuitive, it’s Sheikh Hasina, our Prime Minister, who is running out of real options real fast. All that’s left for her to do is arrest Khaleda Zia. She will truly be at the end of her line after that. Instead, going with the double-election plan could see her rehabilitated in the public mind, and maybe even back in state power, much faster than otherwise thought possible.