Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Awami League's new crisis of legitimacy

"Election fraud"
In 2014, Bangladesh opposition parties boycotted the national election claiming that a vote taking place under the Awami League government - rather than a caretaker government* - would be rigged. 

The Awami League government at the time rejected that argument claiming that they could be trusted to hold a free and fair election. 

Without the participation of the opposition, the Awami League "won" the 2014 election.

However, without a contested election, the Awami League government, particularly in the first few years after 2014, faced a serious legitimacy problem, both at home and abroad. 

Here was a government, many argued, that was only in power, on the back of uncontested elections.

The Awami League's response to this was of course, that had the opposition taken part, the elections would have been "free and fair". 

Now with the upcoming election, we have a situation where the Awami League government's claim of being able to hold a free and fair vote without the need for a caretaker government, can be tested. 

Were the BNP right in 2014 to claim that had the opposition contested the election, the Awami League would have simply rigged it?

There is now a clear answer to this question. Yes they were.

And we don't need to wait until the election day to say this. 

The Awami League's strategy has been to win the election before a single vote has been counted.

They have done this by arresting thousands of opposition activists and preventing them from campaigning; using the police and its student wings to attack opposition activists and prevent them from holding rallies and marches; and using the election commission and the courts to remove the nomination of many candidates. 

In the end, everything is about turnout, and the Awami League government is making sure that enough opposition supporters and voters will be simply be too scared to come out and vote on December 30.

And in this, it appears, that the Awami League will have succeeded.

If for some reason, however, there is an unexpected high turnout of BNP voters, the Awami League will almost certainly stuff the ballot boxes - as they have done in the past.

The Election Commission has made it particularly easy for this to happen this time around, as the Commission has banned journalists from taking photographs or video inside the polling stations. In recent elections, Awami League activists have been filmed stamping ballots and stuffing them into the ballot boxes. The government does not want these kinds of images to be published after at this election - and the Election Commission has helped them out.

The Commission has also, of course, done all it can to prevent international and local monitoring of the election.

So, unless something very unforeseeable happens, the Awami League will win the election - probably, I would guess making sure that it wins over two thirds of the seats so it has power to continue to amend the constitution if necessary.

But, the new government will suffer from the same problem that it did in 2014. Lack of legitimacy.

And this time the lack of legitimacy will be even harder to shake-off - since an election will have taken place with clear evidence of Awami League rigging.


* In 2011, the Awami League government removed from the constitution, provisions which had established an election time caretaker government which had been in effect since 1996. The rationale for the caretaker government - which the Awami League had originally campaigned for - was that no elected government in Bangladesh could be trusted to hold a fair election, and the only way one could take place was if a neutral technocratic caretaker government took over the running of the country during the election period.

Other 2018 Elections posts

- Dec 7:   Forced out, but service resumes
- Dec 7:   Disappearances before 2014 election
- Dec 9:   Exclusive: Results of Confidential Poll revealed
- Dec 11: Bangladesh's "Closing Democratic Space"

- Dec 13: Fear and Awami League leaders
- Dec 13: Challenging the Orthodox View
- Dec 15: Full Pre-election polls for download
- Dec 21: Why the Government is fixing the election
- Dec 22: Sajeeb Joy's poll half-truths
- Dec 22: Facebook exposes government's fake news
- Dec 23: A disgrace of a website
- Dec 25: Awami League's new crisis of legitimacy

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