Prothom Alo English

The result of the Dhaka-17 election surprised no one, except perhaps those who thought the election could not be rigged in a neighbourhood where most foreign diplomats and development workers live. So much for that idea.

I used to know in passing the Awami League candidate, Mohammad A. Arafat, and thought him to be a reflective person. He did not seem the type to rig an election There is however no shortage of rough men in Gulshan-Banani.

As the Netra News article below explains, the electoral situation has mutated beyond the control of even the PM, herself, and certainly that of the figurehead Chief Election Commissioner.

The force of local power and greed may determine the result. A candidate may pay for the nomination, but what the outcome is depends on what he or she provides to the local gangs who control the polling areas. The messages from the central party HQ disappear into the mist of excuses.

The one group who might hold the key to the election is the police and security forces. There however is no sign of nationwide coordination and control. With their increasing importance, they may seek greater returns. As a result, they may fall under greater scrutiny by the political organizations in and outside of Jatiya Sangsad and the government.

What does all this mean for the governability of Bangladesh? The more power devolves to the street, the less likely conventional order can be maintained. The Awami League is in the best position nationally to exert its influence. Still the AL central leadership may find itself holding the tiger’s tail not completely unlike the main opposition party, the BNP, which is experiencing diminished hands-on and informed leadership. An exception may be the Islamic parties in its areas of influence.

For the average person in Bangladesh, it likely means greater certainty as to the tithe paid to the local syndicate and a greater distance between him or herself and the apex national leaders.

Astute observers believe the actions of the international community, particularly the United States, might yet play a role. I am not so sure. For example, the US can only commit so many resources to uncover election tampering. They will likely focus more on national decisions than the local disturbances.

The electoral fate of Bangladesh is important to whatever the future has in store for global democracy. However, if the tide of disorganization and lawlessness increases, the isolation of Bangladesh may return. The surge in the Bangladesh economy derived largely from its integration into the world consumer markets. The risk of the loss of democracy has embedded in it the risk of weakened ties with the West. The fate of democracy in Bangladesh is only as important to global democracy as Bangladesh wishes itself to be. How much does the majority see value in being part of the great multinational experiment in individual freedoms and elected self-rule? That is the question political leaders might address rather than looking for alliances with lower standards.

BRIC is not a substitute. Brazil is protectionist at heart. Russia is headed to uncertainty. China as its economy cools may treat Bangladesh as a competitor. Bangladesh-India trade has a separate dynamic. Bangladesh joined the global city built on the values of economic freedom and democratic liberalism. It would be a shame and a loss if it decided to drift away from it’s like neighbours.

The way to remain as part of the international community is for the national government and opposition to regain control together of the local political reality. To do that they need each other in an elite accommodation on the basic framework of credible elections. A Caretaker Government is unlikely due to mistrust and the parliamentary requirement that “the king never sleeps.” A jointly run Election Commission based on a competitive equilibrium might provide an acceptable path to stable elections.

The alternative is a dysfunctional diffusion of power to the lowest common denominator. The ensuing confusion would likely be punctuated by erratic exercises in police, or potentially military, attempts to reassert a consistent central writ.

Bangladesh might make anarchy work but at the cost of deferring its greater potential.

Why not resolve to make the electoral system more effective now before 2024 and almost certain failed elections (at least two) and social turmoil with economic harm?