People’s will more precious than that of rulers

The verdict of history goes in favour of people and if people do not get a verdict in their favour, the country needs to pay for that, says Khalequzzaman, general secretary of the Socialist Party of Bangladesh, in an interview with Moloy Saha and Mohiuddin Alamgir

an08New Age: Democracy is not all about election. But do you think that democracy is possible without elections?
Khalequzzaman: An election is necessary for a smooth and effective democratic process. But by holding an election without fulfilling its other components, democracy, in its true sense, cannot be established.
An election is not simply enough; the election has to be free, fair and acceptable, in which people of the country are allowed to cast their vote in favour of candidates of their choice.
An election held in an autocratic manner, by controlling things from behind, can never be an alternative to a free and fair election.

New Age: How, in your view, are elections related to democracy?
Khalequzzaman: Democracy means the state will be ruled based on opinions of the people and the elections will be held in line with that spirit. In democracy, the people of the country are the owners of the state, which mean the 16 crore people of our country are its owners. Democratic rule should be established according to their opinions.
In Bangladesh, well over nine crore people are voters divided up into 300 constituencies and they elect their representatives through elections in these constituencies. In principle, they will elect competent and honest candidates as their representatives in the parliament to the 300 seats.
But in our country, ruling parties do not believe in the notion that people are owners of the state, and as a result, they do not pay any importance to the opinions of the people.
As they do not respect voters, instead of trying to win their hearts through their activities, they usually use undisclosed money, thugs and stir up communal differences during election campaigns to win the race.
We all know of US president Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address where he said that democracy is government of the people, by the people and for the people; but at present, democracy in our country is very far away from that spirit. The ruling class has kept democracy ineffective.

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?
Khalequzzaman: Since our independence through a liberation war in 1971, we have witnessed various forms and types of ‘democracy’. The aspiration of people immediately after the independence was that the country would be ruled democratically, the rule of law would be established — for which they had fought for. But it is unfortunately true that since then, the country has witnessed multi-party democracy, single-party democracy, bi-party democracy, military and interim government rule — all of which did not reflect people’s aspirations. Meanwhile, the country witnessed the assassination of two presidents, the state of emergency being imposed five times, two autocratic rulers, and indirect military dictatorship. People of the country became frustrated with the misrule of those assuming office, one after another.
In the national elections held on January 5, 2014, 90 per cent voters had no participation in the elections. Before the election, the Awami League-led alliance and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led alliance started a battle in the country. State-sponsored and political party-sponsored anarchy took the lives of several hundred people. The Awami League won the battle and formed a government. Since then, the BNP has been trying heart and soul to get back their strength. Both the large parties have no desire to empower voters.
The struggle between the Awami League and the BNP can be defined as a war between the worse and the worst.
They both try to control logic with power, buy people’s conscience, create a debate over who declared independence, take advantage of religious beliefs of people. They are in it to make their power absolute and hand it over to criminals, after criminalising politics. The ruling class is only interested in holding a competitive election when they are sure that the ballot boxes will be full of votes on their side. If they have the slightest doubt about winning the polls, they want a vote without competitors, full of stuffing and rigging. The election on January 5, 2014, was like that.
The ruling party argued that as the opposition failed to wage a strong movement against the government, so the people of the country were on their side and therefore people’s consent supposedly naturally went in favour of the incumbent. Since one target of democracy is development, the way local and international agencies gave certificates of development to the government, they could argue that people’s needs for democracy were met. The incumbents feel they were being generous in holding elections to 146 seats. If they wanted, they could have been elected unopposed to all 300 seats.
The ruling party has basically resorted to a criminal act and to cover that they need to control people’s consensus by controlling the media, which is why we have the National Broadcasting Policy.

New Age: What are the steps, in your view, that the authorities concerned should take to ensure free, fair and participatory general elections?
Khalequzzaman: On elections, the ruling class has a mindset on how to influence people to come to their side, to prey on the opposition through attacks and filing cases, to split and weaken the opposition, and only then will they go for polls. They will also attack left forces, carry out propaganda; hold hands with fundamentalists to secure a win.
The elections must be free from the use of undisclosed money, thugs and any sort of misuse of communal feelings during the election campaign.
For a free, fair and participatory general election, we need radical changes in the election system, its related institutions, laws and rules. But so far as we understand, both the Awami League-led alliance and the BNP-led alliance will not bring about any changes to these things. For the radical changes to come, we need a rise of the left progressive forces.

New Age: When should you think that the next elections be held?
Khalequzzaman: If the changes are complete, elections can be held any time. There is no need to wait for the government to complete this tenure.

New Age: What if the incumbents do not agree to the timeline?
Khalequzzaman: People’s will is more precious than that of the rulers; the verdict of history goes in favour of people. If people do not get a verdict in their favour, the country has to pay for that.

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