People who are today vocal about the elections in Bangladesh are mostly young. But most of these young people were not ready enough to observe the real situation of elections, voting rights and democracy in the country just a decade ago. So they are easily falling into the political trap of dictators. Some are trying to convince the new generation that the people of this country are being deprived of the right to vote! Is it really true? Let’s take a look at the previous election systems in Bangladesh.
The first general election was held on March 7 in 1973 after Father of the Nation Sheikh Mujibur Rahman established the independent Election Commission through the Constitution in 1972. The Awami League candidates won 293 of the 300 seats in the parliament. But after the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu and his family on August 15, 1975, the dictator Ziaur Rahman destroyed the independent Election Commission and took away the people’s right to vote. He started elections without voters in the name of ‘yes-no vote’ on May 30, 1977.
The hooligans deployed by Ziaur Rahman sealed almost 100% of the votes in favour of the ‘yes vote’. The total votes outnumbered the total voters in many cases. Dictator Zia repeated the same thing in the second parliamentary elections in 1979 to take away the rights of the people completely.
Later, another dictator Ershad also followed Zia’s approach to keep the state power in his hands, destroying the democratic practice and environment of the country. On March 24, 1982, Ershad overthrew the elected government of former President Abdus Sattar and seized power. He ruled the country as Chief Martial Law Administrator until December 11, 1983. Then Ershad took control of state power from President Ahsanuddin Chowdhury forcefully.
Assuming in power and forming Jatiya Party in an undemocratic way, Ershad held an election on May 7 in 1986 and won 153 seats. Awami League, however, bagged 76 seats amidst all odds and innumerable adversities. In his autobiography ‘Amar Karma, Amar Jeeban’, Ershad admitted that the BNP had demanded a share of seats before the 1986 parliamentary elections. The then BNP-led eight-party alliance withdrew from the elections after not getting a share of the seats. In other words, the BNP still wanted to share power by bypassing the electoral process.
In that election, the dictator Ershad used the state apparatus and the administration to commit gross rigging in the election. However, the parliament lasted for only one year amid strong resistance from like-minded parties including Awami League. Though Ershad held a one-sided election in 1988, his government could not last long. He had to fall finally on December 6, 1990 thanks to the indomitable attitude of Sheikh Hasina.
In 1991, the BNP was able to grab state power with the support of anti-liberation parties, especially Jamaat. As a result, the Awami League became the opposition party. However, as the Leader of the Opposition, Sheikh Hasina played a leading role in restoring the democratic system of government in Bangladesh from a presidential system of government. Although the process of restructuring the Election Commission, including updating the voter list, began then, its effective reflection became visible during the 2008 parliamentary elections.
After seizing state power in 1991 with the help of Razakar-Jamaat, Khaleda Zia again started bypassing the Election Commission. As soon as Khaleda Zia took over the government, she followed the footsteps of her husband dictator Ziaur Rahman and Ershad and tainted the electoral process again. On 15 February 1996, Khaleda Zia declared herself the winner by organizing a one-party election using party cadres. But mass people rejected the election result, forcing Khaleda Zia to resign on March 30.
Awami League won the June 12, 1996 election, the most competitive ever since independence with up to 74.82% casting vote. After a long 21 years, the party president and daughter of Bangabandhu Sheikh Hasina took charge of running the state. The process of restructuring the state apparatus at all levels began with the predominance of the ideology of the Liberation War. Initiatives were taken to bring about a qualitative change in election management through the formation of a permanent and independent election commission. But it was very difficult to move forward by removing all the obstacles of long-term misrule.
But yet, after the government ended its tenure, the Awami League handed over power to the caretaker government following the proper procedure. For the first time in the history of Bangladesh, a government completed its term and handed over power to a non-partisan caretaker government.
But BNP again managed to come to power in 2001 due to the conspiracy of the anti-liberation forces. The election marked sporadic violence, murder, disappearances, rapes, torture, and so on. Almost 26,000 Awami League leaders and activists were killed and disappeared across the country. And the minorities are on the verge of extinction. All these happened because of their ‘crime to cast vote for the Awami League’.
BNP-Jamaat came to power and stopped all the reform initiatives taken by Awami League. To win the next election, the BNP-Jamaat alliance prepared a voter list with around 13.9 million fake voters.
However, on January 3, 2007, the Awami League announced to boycott the election by resisting the BNP’s mischievous attempt at a rigged election. In the face of the mass movement, Iajuddin’s caretaker government stepped down on January 11, 2007. There came the caretaker government backed by the army. Sheikh Hasina demanded a free and fair election. But as she went to the United States for her eye treatment in April, conspiracy and propaganda theories were spread in the air against her to bar her return to the country. However, as a result of public opinion and adverse reactions in the international community, the official order of Sheikh Hasina to return to the country was finally revoked.
On May 7, 2007, Sheikh Hasina returned to the country from the United States. She was arrested on July 16 and kept in a special jail. While in jail, Sheikh Hasina was slow-poisoned through food to kill her. She became seriously ill due to poisoning. However, due to her unwavering stance and in the face of overwhelming public protests, the army government was forced to release her by withdrawing the cases filed against her.
After the fake voter list of 13.9 million people made by the BNP-Jamaat government came to light, the 14 parties, including Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League, demanded more transparency in the election system.
As a result of their demand, photo-based voter lists, transparent ballot boxes, disclosure of assets of the candidates willing to participate in the elections, and appointment of presiding and polling officers for conducting the elections from among the employees of the Republic were ensured.
After these demands came into effect, Bangladesh Awami League won the two-thirds majority of the parliamentary seats in the free and fair elections held in December 2008. Following the formation of the government, the Awami League started to plan and implement a comprehensive action plan for institutional improvement at all levels, including the Election Commission, the Judiciary, the Legislature and the Executive.
Despite winning a two-thirds majority in December 2008, the Awami League took the initiative to form an all-party interim government before the January 5, 2014 elections. Elections were held with representatives of all parties under a strong Election Commission to keep the election process smooth, fair and transparent.
To ensure the participation of all parties in the elections, the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina herself invited the then Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia to join in the election-time interim government and participate in the polls. But as the trial of the war criminals started in line with the young generation’s demand and the election manifesto of the Awami League, the BNP-Jamaat went on fanatic. They started countrywide vandalism and violence. Realizing that they would be defeated in a fair election, the BNP-Jamaat tactfully refrained from joining the all-party election government and started sabotage across the country to thwart the election. Due to their stubbornness, the ordinary people of the country failed to exercise their voting right in 153 seats. This failure and responsibility entirely fall on the shoulder of BNP, no other else.
Polling agents and Awami League leaders and activists were killed in different places in the horrific violent incidents created by the BNP-Jamaat goons in the name of rejecting and resisting the elections. However, the Awami League won 234 seats while the Jatiya Party bagged 34 seats.
The BNP-Jamaat left no stone unturned from looting police stations to carrying out petrol bombings and unprecedented arson attacks on power plants, houses and vehicles of ordinary people. Their heinous crimes left 23 members of the law enforcement agencies dead. They killed more than two hundred people by burning them with petrol. More than two thousand ordinary people have been severely injured and paralyzed. But the people of Bangladesh stood up against this evil force, forcing them to stop barbarism at one stage.
Due to the BNP-Jamaat sabotage, the state lost about Tk 250,000 crore at that time, with which it would have been possible to build about 10 more infrastructures like Padma Bridge.
Even before the 2018 elections, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made efforts to ensure the participation of all parties. She initiated dialogue with all political parties of the country with the only purpose of ensuring an acceptable and level-playing field in the election. But BNP and its allied political parties participating in the dialogue were conspiring to destroy the atmosphere of harmony in the political dialogue and to ruin the electoral atmosphere by spreading various rumours and propaganda in the country.
Not only that, BNP-Jamaat did not engage in public relations and campaigning in the election field, on the contrary, they engaged in pre-planned international propaganda to thwart that election, trying to question the electoral system. The BNP well-understood that the people of the country would not vote for them in any way. So they formed the so-called ‘Jatiya Okiya Front’ to protect their existence as a political party and to prevent the victory of the Awami League. They picked candidates from war criminal organization Jamaat, whose registration was cancelled for election, and gave them its ‘paddy sheaf’ symbol. But at the same time, the party refrained from campaigning and postering. Their supporters also got confused about whether BNP was participating or not. Although they did not withdraw their candidacy, their agents were not seen at the polling station. And that is how their new conspiracy unfolded.
So it is the jurisdiction of the nation to answer: who repeatedly deprived the people of Bangladesh of the right to vote – Awami League or BNP? It is the BNP again who has come up with a new blueprint. The BNP appeared with the so-called idea of a national government ahead of the 2023 elections. But the fact is BNP made jokes with people when Awami League proposed the same formula before the 2014 elections. So is the BNP conspiring to shed the blood of the country’s ordinary people again in 2023 like those in 2013-14? Please, beware of them.