AL rides on absence of functioning opposition

Democracy in a country depends on how independently and effectively democratic institutions such as the parliament, the Election Commission, the judiciary and the Anti-Corruption Commission, function, says Pankaj Bhattacharya, the president of the United National Awami Party, in an interview with Mahmudul Hasan and MH Maswood

an06New Age: Democracy is not all about election. But do you think that democracy is possible without elections?
Pankaj Bhattacharya: I think elections are an integral part of democracy but elections are not the only means to establish democracy in a country. Establishing democracy in a country depends on how independently and effectively the democratic institutions, including the parliament, the Election Commission, the judiciary and the Anti-Corruption Commission, are functioning. It also depends on how the political parties maintain democracy in running their organisations.
New Age: How, in your view, elections are related to democracy?
Pankaj Bhattacharya: In my view, elections are important in a democratic system for the reflection of public representation. People get the chance to elect their representatives to the parliament if a meaningful election is held. However, democracy cannot be established only with elections and allowing people to exercise their democratic rights only on the election day. I cannot call it a democratic system if people cannot enjoy democracy in every sphere of their life.
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?
Pankaj Bhattacharya: In my view, the January 5 general elections are unacceptable because of the poor participation of people and political parties in the election process, but acceptable in the sense of continuation of the constitutional process. With the January 5 elections, partial democracy has been established.
The Awami league-led alliance government would not have managed to hold the elections if the opposition parties, including the BNP, had waged an effective movement to resist the polls. The Awami League is taking the advantage of a vacuum of a functioning opposition.

New Age: What are the steps, in your view, that the authorities concerned should take to ensure free, fair and participatory general elections?
an07Pankaj Bhattacharya: The authorities concerned should arrange a dialogue as early as possible to reach a national consensus over some basic issues, including the election process and the role of the Election Commission and the parliament. After reaching a national consensus, required amendment to the constitution will have to be taken up to ensure a free, fair and participatory general election.
A divided nation cannot march towards achieving real development. Therefore, I do not want any dialogue only for free, fair and participatory elections. I want the dialogue to be among all the stakeholders of the state, and not only on the question of elections, but also on saving the nation from a conflicting situation and uncertainty, by reaching a consensus on the basic issues.

New Age: When should you think that the next elections be held?
Pankaj Bhattacharya: I think that the next general elections should be held as soon as possible but only after reaching a national consensus over the basic issues and after settling the issue on how a sustainable election system can be had.

New Age: What if the incumbents do not agree to the timeline?
Pankaj Bhattacharya: If we fail to go for a national consensus and give due respect to all communities of the country — the toiling mass and national minorities — achievements of the liberation war will go in vain. Therefore, the incumbents should go for elections for the interest of upholding the spirit of liberation war.
New Age: There is a common perception that businesspeople and bureaucrats are administering the country instead of politicians. What is your opinion in this regard?
Pankaj Bhattacharya: Actually, the state power is now in the hands of 1 per cent of the population of the country composed of land grabbers, bank looters and corrupt bureaucrats. The 1 per cent is running the government instead of real politicians. Here, people have no power to exercise. A powerful syndicate composed of ministers, parliament members, top bureaucrats and law enforcement agencies are involved in looting public money and making several thousand crore takas every year through illegal trade, including smuggling and in the name of implementing big projects.

New Age: Which forces are now active in politics?
Pankaj Bhattacharya: The pro-liberation and progressive forces have not been functional in recent times and taking the opportunity of this vacuum, anti-liberation forces are becoming more functional in politics. The Jamaat-e-Islami and other extremists are using the inactivity of progressives, and filling up the vacuum through different means, including making their women’s organisations more functional.
International conspirators are still active against Bangladesh. The anti-liberation forces, including the fundamentalist Jamaat, are trying again to turn the country into another Pakistan. If the BNP comes to power it will be easy for them to materialise that dream as the BNP still believes in the ideals of inseparable Pakistan. Once upon a time, Jamaat was under the shelter of the BNP but now the BNP is in the shelter of Jamaat. Here, the real leadership is in the hands of Jamaat.

New Age: How hopeful are you about the young generation for a better Bangladesh?
Pankaj Bhattacharya: We, seniors, have failed to set any example for the young generation to be inspired. But they must be inspired as they united in Ganajagaran Mancha.
The nation is now passing through a critical period where people have no confidence in the government, opposition parties and all democratic institutions.
I have never seen this sort of lack of confidence in politics, politicians and democratic institutions in my long political career. When we were at the gun point of Pakistani forces on the night of March 25, 1971, we were not frustrated; we, rather, dreamt of a democratic, independent Bangladesh.
But those dreams have faded away. I see no light of hope now. We are now living in a society where there is no morality and moral values.

New Age: You think that the spirit of liberation war is at risk. Would you elaborate?
Pankaj Bhattacharya: The people — those who made you dream before and after the liberation war — are no more in society. Their works are not being glorified. As a result, we are now seeing the decaying existence of the liberation war’s spirit.

New Age: How can the spirit of liberation war be upheld?
Pankaj Bhattacharya: Only an alternative force imbued with the spirit of liberation war and utmost morality can uphold the spirit of liberation war; Bangladesh might, otherwise, have an existence in the world map but  will have no existence of the spirit of liberation in future.

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