At this point in time, with the 10th Parliamentary elections upon us, we are all painfully aware of the reasons for the Opposition’s boycott and their demands. They have demonstrated their demands with enough dead and burnt bodies and bomb attacks. Rather than rehash all the current political hot topics I would like to ask you a question.
Are you better off today than you were five years ago? Is the country better off today than it was five years ago? If the answer is yes, it did not happen by itself. Without a good government power plants, schools and roads would not have been built. Without sound economic management the economy and your income would not have grown. Without a strong government your children would not have been safe from terrorist bombs on their way to school. Without Sheikh Hasina war criminals would not have been punished.
Yet our Opposition’s final sticking point in negotiations was for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to step down. The argument was that we would not go to elections under Khaleda Zia. Let me give the same answer that I give in all my town hall meetings. Imagine someone came to your door, you let them in and they robbed you. A few years later they came back to your door and apologized, you let them in again and they robbed you yet again. If they came back a third time and apologized, would you let them in? Khaleda Zia has rigged elections both times she has been in power. She has never conducted a free and fair national election. Would any sane person go to elections under Khaleda Zia?
Sheikh Hasina has never rigged an election and even in this term we have had almost 6000 elections not one of which anyone has been able to complain about. The two do not compare. To claim that free and fair national elections are not possible under Sheikh Hasina just because Khaleda Zia has rigged them each time is completely illogical!
Even though no unbiased observer has been able to claim these elections will not be free and fair, a few civil society members and foreign diplomats have claimed they will not be credible. This gives the Opposition veto power over the elections. The long term implication of this is that for all future elections any party can refuse to participate and the elections will not be credible even if they are free and fair. Where does that leave the democratic process? In the future any party that is likely to lose could simply boycott elections and they become not credible, as the BNP is trying now.
This is the crux of the current situation. I had opined to several foreign diplomats two years ago that if at the end of five years the BNP is not sure they can win the elections, they will boycott. The BNP has acted just as I predicted. Does anyone honestly believe that in spite of all our Government’s achievements and the BNP’s continued arson attacks on civilians the BNP has any chance of winning an election? If they believed they could win then why not prove it?
The only way to ensure continuation of democracy is to come out and vote. That is also the only way to improve the current situation and politics. Let me explain.
There is a continuous stream of criticism levelled at politics and politicians. But what is the end result of this? Even when a party or MP does a lot of good, they get dragged down to the level of criminals. Who does this benefit? Their opponents who are crooked and only want to get to power to enrich themselves. This is why negative campaigns exist; because they work.
This also creates a disincentive for honest politicians. If even after working hard they are constantly called crooks, eventually they give up. Then you are left with candidates who believe they will only get one term, as no matter how hard they work they will be dragged down. So what would they do then if elected? They will focus only on enriching themselves in that one term. It becomes a race to the bottom.
The only way to prevent this is to vote. In this election, despite the best efforts of the BNP and a section of our civil society to denigrate politicians the Awami League succeeded in countering the negative propaganda. The BNP did not have any other tactic left. So they resorted to boycotting these elections in order to make them controversial. If this tactic is rewarded, then the future of democracy in our country is doomed.
By voting you send a clear message that you value democracy above all else. By voting for the party that has taken Bangladesh forward and made your lives better you reward good politicians. If you continue to do this the opposition will eventually realize that such tactics will not work. They will eventually realize that the only way to get elected is to make specific promises to voters and then to keep those promises when elected.
This is why voting is so important. It is true there is not much of a choice of parties or candidates. But there is an even more important choice. Whether you support democracy at all cost or not. Whether good politicians deserve to continue or not. Whether politics improves or the political uncertainty and conflict continues. The choice is yours. I hope you will vote in two days.