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The election for the 9th Parliament was held on December 29, 2008 in presence of thousands of outside observers. The caretaker government, which took power on January 11, 2007 through army backing, must be congratulated for a job well-done. This caretaker government had reformed the Election Commission, prepared an honest voters list, make ready the voters' photo ID, and finally conduct a fair election. The electorates have given their verdict by casting their votes in a free and non-threatening environment. It is now up to the losing party or alliance of parties to gracefully accept the verdict of voters.
In other democracies around the world, the losing party is the first one to give the concession speech, which is usually short. The losing candidate or party offers the proverbial olive branch to the victorious candidate and then assures the winner his or her help to move forward the country in the right direction. This happened on November 3, 2008 in the U.S. Senator McCain did not wait for the last precinct to be reported. When he saw that Senator Obama has come out victorious in many states and had garnered over 50% of the electoral votes, Senator McCain thought it was appropriate for him to give that concession speech. He was gracious, polite, and his tone was conciliatory. In fact, he gave one of the best concession speeches in recent times.
Now, would this happen in Dhaka this time around? The parliamentary election in allover Bangladesh took place on December 29, 2008. Within hours of the closing of all polling places, results were percolating through the media. In the wee small hours of December 30, 2008 the media was reporting that the parliamentary candidates from the grand alliance of Awami League were coming out victorious with a wide margin. It looked as if the grand alliance may secure about 80% or more of the total parliamentary seats. But the leader of the losing party and its alliance kept her deafening silence. Understandably, it was a tiring day for Khaleda Zia; therefore, no concession speech came out from her. As the day will wore by, is it possible that Khaleda Zia will address the nation and offer her concession speech? If the past gives us any clue, it won'' happen anytime soon. In fact, it may never happen!
On the contrary, we may hear from her speech the following,
- The election was rigged a big time.
- Many voters favoring her party could not cast their votes.
- There was a conspiracy hatched to take away the victory from her party and the alliance.
- The election officials favored the other party as per the blueprint worked out by an invisible hand.
Now, why am I writing all these in advance? The reason is simple. I have watched the leading politicians of Bangladesh in recent times. And I have seen that the losing party's lead person always say that the election was engineered in a way to take away victory from them. Moreover, only a few days ago in her stump speeches allover Bangladesh , Khaleda Zia said that her party and alliance would capture over 75% of the parliamentary seats. No pre-election poll was cited as reference. But that hardly matters in Bangladesh .
On the contrary, I read one poll released by 'New Age' English daily and another report published by 'Daily Star'. Both of these newspapers had reported that the grand alliance of Awami League was favored to garner more popular votes and parliamentary seats. The question which arises naturally — was Khaleda Zia not reading the pre-election polls taken by independent bodies?
This too much expectation of securing more seats in the parliament has its down side as well. The pride gets into the head of the political boss and she simply won't buzz from the view that her party would have secured an absolute majority had it not for the "widespread rigging" that took place in all precincts. It is granted that when 80 million voters would cast their votes in about 35,000 to 40,000 polling places, then there would be some irregularity in a handful of polling places. But that should not grant a license to the losing party to characterize the entire election as some kind of charade.
There were other factors for a wide swinging in the election results that favored Awami League and its alliance. The previous election was held in October 2001; therefore, in the last 7 years many young Bangladeshis were eligible to vote. How these young voters would cast their votes is a subject of much conjecture. Obviously, the new voters being young and idealistic would prefer to cast their votes in favor of candidates who say "changing the status quo" would be his or her mantra. In this election cycle, the grand alliance of Awami League's election mantra was for "Change" while the four-party alliance of BNP sticks to their old mantra of "Sovereignty" of the nation. This writer never understood which nation intends to gobble up Bangladesh ! The electorates in Bangladesh bought the message of "Change" over "National Security" many a time and the election results affirm this quite succinctly.
The other reasons Khaleda Zia's alliance did very poorly were inclusion of Jamaat-i-Islam, the party many Bangladeshis equated with Razakars, the enemies of 1971 Liberation War, and Fifth Columnists. Also, many BNP politicians who made tons of illegal money during 2001 through 2006 ran in the election as BNP-alliance candidate. The voters maybe unsophisticated, but they are not dumb. Predictably, they rejected those candidates as if they were vermin of some sorts. Taken all these factors together, one could clearly see that the political wind was blowing against the BNP and its alliance. Under these circumstances, to obtain more than 50% of the parliamentary seats would have been a task only reserved for a magician or a politician deft in soothsaying.
In summary, the electorates have spoken in one loud voice and they soundly rejected the party that housed some criminals who camouflaged as politicians. These parliamentary members have been engaged in wholesale looting of the public goods including raw cash. Khaleda Zia had grossly underestimated the power of ballots. Rather than acting as if nothing wrong has happened a la the proverbial ostrich that buried its head in the sand, she should gracefully accept the verdict of her countrymen. She should also cleanse her party by giving a good riddance to all the politicians who were engaged in wholesale thievery during 2001 and 2006, and reform her party by infusing new blood. Finally, she should dissociate her alliance from Jamaat-i-Islam – the party that betrayed the spirit of 1971 when it acted as the Fifth Columnists during the dark days of 1971. A new BNP without razakars, looters, would most certainly be a good start. Let us see if Khaleda Zia moves in that direction.
Dr. A.H. Jaffor Ullah