Election 2013: Focussing Our Minds – II
In a recent meeting, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has clarified that elections don’t have to be held three months before the parliament is dissolved. Rather, the preparation for elections shall begin three months before parliament is dissolved. A look at the relevant part of the Bangladeshi Constitution affirms this:
A general election of the members of Parliament shall be held-
(a) in the case of a dissolution by reason of the expiration of its term, within the period of ninety days preceding such dissolution ;
Therefore, the dates mentioned in this post need to be extended by three months.
However, the meeting produced its own set of interesting questions.
Firstly, Hasina told the meeting that based on the intelligence reports that she has, Awami League is going to cruise to victory in 170 sets. Another 30 seats were too close to call. And Awami League was going to lose in another 30 seats. This survey was conducted in the 230 seats that Awami League won in the last election. Given the accuracy and track-record of our intelligence agencies in forecasting election results, such as the ones they delivered to her in 2000 -2001, I’d be more inclined to flip the results.
But more importantly, this brings a broader point into question. The relevant constitutional provision makes clear that the elections will be held while the current Parliament is still valid. Thus, not only will Hasina contest as the prime minister and the current cabinet members as sitting ministers, but all the incumbent members of parliament will contest as MPs, not former MPs.
To my knowledge, this is unprecedented in a parliamentary democracy. Be it England, India, or any other parliamentary democracies, the parliament is dissolved before a parliamentary election takes place. When the candidates for election go to the voters again, they all go in equal footing. One set of candidates do not go as current office-holders.
To anyone acquainted with Bangladeshi politics, the behavior of the field administration to those who are in power is not unknown. To even argue that fair elections can be held while the current government is ensconced in power is simply ludicrous. At one level, you cannot help but pity Awami League, the veteran of so many past protests and andolons, that it has become reduced to this.
To anyone who thinks that fair elections will be possible in this scenario, I ask, suppose an election results in a non-AL majority. Do you really think that this chamber of Awami League MPs will allow a peaceful transition of power? That they will not pass some new law, or some new stratagem to invalidate the elections?
To ask such questions is to know their answer.