AL not popular enough to be in power for long

Election is one of the components but the election should be free, fair, acceptable and participatory and there should be the rule of law, the freedom of speech and expression, accountability and transparency in the politics of running the country in a truly democratic process, says Mujahidul Islam Selim, the president of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, in an interview with Moloy Saha and Mohiuddin Alamgir

an09New Age: Democracy is not all about election. But do you think that democracy is possible without elections?
Mujahidul Islam Selim: Election is an integral part of democracy but not the only one component. Democracy is, rather, multidimensional, containing components such as economics, politics, culture, ethics and others. To me, economics is the most important component of democracy as politics is the concentrated expression of economics. Unless the economic foundation is solid, democracy cannot exist.
People’s political, social and cultural rights are important in a democratic society and I think economic rights are as equally important as other rights.
Political democracy is discussed a lot in our country. This is also multidimensional — election is one of the components but the election should be free, fair, acceptable and participatory. Not only that election should be free and fair, there should be the rule of law, the freedom of speech and expression, accountability and transparency in the politics of running the country in a truly democratic process.
Deducting the rule of law, the freedom of speech and expression, accountability and transparency and holding elections every five years cannot be called democracy.

New Age: How, in your view, elections are related to democracy?
Mujahidul Islam Selim: Election is one of the main pillars of democracy. An election does not mean that a government will be elected for a particular tenure but that a government will run in line with the wishes of people and their desire will be reflected through an election.
Through an election, people’s consensus on which principle a government will run is also tested. For this, a party declares its manifesto to attract a verdict in favour of them.

New Age: The incumbents are now claiming that theirs is a democratically elected government and that they have the people’s mandate for a five-year tenure despite the fact that they had secured 154 seats of the 300-strong parliament before a single vote was cast while some 10-12 per cent of voters went to the polling stations for electing public representatives in sham elections boycotted by the opposition parties. What is your view about the stance of the incumbents?
Mujahidul Islam Selim: Everyone in the country knows that the January 5 election was not a normal election. Even the prime minister and other Awami League and its alliance leaders had said that the January 5 election was held for legal continuity and constitutional obligation and that they would hold a normal election as soon as possible.
Election means competition and without any kind of competition you cannot call it an election. If the immediate-past main opposition does not participate in an election, you cannot call it a competitive election.
In my view, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s policy was wrong. It should have taken part in the election and let people guard the ballot boxes. It should have believed in people’s power and wisdom. As the BNP did not participate in the election, the Awami League found a vacant field and held a one-sided election. The BNP had fallen into the trap set by the ruling Awami League by not accepting their challenge.
Awami League men are now happy that they trapped the BNP but they should keep in mind that a larger hunter might be setting a trap for them as well.
The legal verdict will go in favour of uncontested winners as there is a provision to have that but I question it on political and ethical grounds. One or two candidates can be elected unopposed but how can a whole government be elected unopposed?
When 154 lawmakers out of the 300 were elected unopposed, it made elections to the remaining 146 seats irrelevant on the question of who would form the government. Undoubtedly, the election was questionable.
If the system of ‘no vote’ was still in force, the whole scenario could have been different. Nobody would have been elected unopposed in the first place.
The prospects of an end to the political stalemate in the near future are not promising.
The Awami League does not have the popularity to run the country, under a democratic system for a long time; so it turned autocratic. And the elements of that are already in the sight.
On the other hand, the BNP does not have enough power to wage a people’s movement to drag down the incumbents from power or compel the government to hold a midterm election. As the BNP lacks that power, to meet the gap they are heavily relying on Jamaat-e-Islami, and the Awami League is well aware of that. Now the Awami League is trying to disconnect Jamaat from the BNP.
In my view, the Awami League has taken a wrong policy. It should disconnect Jamaat from the BNP instead. A fundamentalist power like Jamaat is taking advantage of the situation and trying to send the country into the dark.

New Age: What are the steps, in your view, that the authorities concerned should take to ensure free, fair and participatory general elections?
Mujahidul Islam Selim: We need a radical change in the election system. We need to change the British system of election — first-past-the-post (election won by the candidate with more votes than other/s) — and replace it with the proportional representation system where political parties taking part in the elections will get seats in line with votes cast against their symbol.
Nepal, Sri Lanka and many countries in Europe and Latin America follow the proportional representation system.
In the current system, a party can get 70 per cent of the parliamentary seats with only 30 per cent votes.
The use of thugs and the use of religion in politics and election campaigns should be banned.
Lawmakers are engaged in economic activities in their constituency overlooking their main job, which is to frame laws. They see elections as a profit-making process and so to win an election they invest huge amounts of money and after becoming a lawmaker they want a return on their investment.
Both the large parties in the country do not support a change in the election system in fear of losing their monopoly over politics.
The Election Commission should be made more powerful and stronger.

New Age: When should you think that the next elections be held?
Mujahidul Islam Selim: Elections should be held immediately as the prime minister said that the January 5 election was held for legal continuity, and it was held as there was some constitutional obligation and that they will hold a normal election as soon as possible.
But one thing: the election should, of course, be held in a free, fair and participatory manner.

New Age: What if the incumbents do not agree to the timeline?
Mujahidul Islam Selim: The country is still in a chaotic state with uncertainty prevailing because of the political stalemate. There is no partial solution to the problem. I do not think anything less than a revolution will be able to change the situation.

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