In search of an opposition

Former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s eleventh-hour u-turn from the launching of national anti-poverty drive has once again renewed the recurrent concern – where is the opposition in Bangladesh politics?

At first instance, it may seem normal since such refusal is nothing new in Bangladesh. The incumbent leaders also boycotted many such calls for negotiation and cooperation when they were in opposition. But the real concern is elsewhere.

The less important issue here is the “way” BNP backtracked from the promised involvement. Khaleda Zia blamed the “events over the past few days” for this which includes deteriorating law and order, high prices of commodities and politicization of administration. There is no denying of her accusations. But the perplexing thing is that the situation was the same when her Chief Whip Zainul Abdin Farroque confirmed her presence even two days earlier (on 16 Oct). Have the alleged politicization or the worsening of law and order just started “over the past few days”?

She also argued that “the process for creating national consensus on various issues can begin only after the government creates a congenial environment”. Seems like a chicken-egg dilemma. Does consensus create ‘congenial environment’, or congenial environment creates consensus? We know that AL used to argue the same.

Maybe something really happened “over the past few days” that has changed her decision. Or, maybe it’s the triumph of the erroneous believe that (except during military programs) stage-sharing is harmful for opposition. But couldn’t the Former Prime Minister fry the fish (AL) with its oil (the stage)? Couldn’t she use the stage to openly criticize the current Prime Minister for failing to address the poverty issue correctly? Wouldn’t that be a better show than the unexplained u-turn?

But the more important concern here is the absence of an active opposition which is essential for checks and balance in democracy. BNP is neither in the parliament nor outside which is giving AL a ride without checks. AL has passed and bypassed a series of issues without facing a strong opposition. So far the noticeable oppositions to AL are coming from within AL – either from the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself or from other AL leaders.  Or, at best, from non-political groups.

Yes, we understand that BNP need some time, first to get revived after the two-years’ of political ordeal; and second, to rebuild its morale after the landslide election loss. We also understand the difficulty it is facing in balancing its anti and pro-reform leaders, and in keeping a strong voice in the parliament with so few members.

But absence of a strong BNP at this point in time is very dangerous for several reasons—

First, vital and controversial decisions are usually taken during the first years of a government. So a rejuvenated BNP after few years will not compensate the loss Bangladesh is experiencing for not having a strong opposition now.

Second, if the past regime of BNP is any indication, incumbency not necessarily makes a strong political party. If BNP fails to emerge stronger now being in the opposition, it will be in jeopardy next time it comes to power (that is, when people will put it back in power not for its strength, but for AL’s weakness).

Third, the absence of a strong “right of center” (essentially anti-AL) opposition may bring the “extreme-right” into limelight. If the extremists steal the show from BNP (being embedded in BNP or replacing BNP) and emerge as the alternative opposition, it will be a real trouble for our development. It may sound unlikely now, but AL has witnessed dramatic change in its opposition over the last decades which ranged from far-right to far-left. Bangladesh cannot endure a return of non-moderate opposition force now.

Under these circumstances, any political discourse should address—

  1. (If BNP is perceived as the only opposition) how a right-of-center, moderate BNP can be rejuvenated and kept protected from extreme-right?
  2. (If one is bored with repetition of the same parties) how an alternative political force can be created without falling into the same post 1/11-saga?
  3. (In the absence of any of the above in the short-run) how the current regime of AL can be brought under constructive criticism and meaningful political checks?

Cross-posted at Unheard Voice

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One Response to In search of an opposition

  1. Pingback: Unheard Voice » Is there a real opposition in Bangladesh?

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