‘Jan 5 polls brought back stability’, bdnews24.com, 16 February 2014

Rzvi-ed

Prime Minister’s International Affairs adviser Gowher Rizvi has reminded foreign diplomats of a contradiction — the call to hold fresh elections soonest possible creates the “very instability” that the Jan 5 elections put an end to.

Rizvi said the government would organise a fresh election at an appropriate time.

“…to say it has to be held by 20th of June, 10th of March, 19th of Dec, would create the very instability that the elections have put an end to,” he said on Sunday while speaking at a seminar on ‘good governance’ organised by the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) with the support of Canadian High Commission in Dhaka.

High Commissioner Heather Cruden said at the seminar that the Jan 5 elections left large part of the nation feeling ‘disfranchised’ as 153 candidates were elected unopposed.

“The peace and stability we are experiencing now may not last”, she said.

Canada is one of many western countries calling for fresh elections that are inclusive and credible.

Cruden cited a recent poll conducted by the US-based International Republican Institute to back her case. According to the poll, 61 percent of those surveyed said the elections should be held within a year, 71 percent think violence will get worse in the next year, and 59 percent thought Bangladesh was on the wrong track.

Rizvi begged to differ.

“We are doing ourselves disservice” by constantly raising issues based on “selective evidence” from opinion polls.

He said elections were to bring about political stability in the society, to give a government a mandate and “ultimately whether an election is valid or invalid depends on the acceptability of the people, masses, the voters and the elected”.

Everybody was aware about the limitation of the elections and there was certain constitutional compulsion to hold them, Rizvi said.

“We have to ask ourselves, what the country needs is respite from violence, what the county needs is stability, so that people can go back to work, lead their lives without being bombed, without being afraid of coming out their homes, without losing livelihood,” he said urging all to think about what is important and what will strengthen the institutions.

Referring to the 2008 elections, he said while nobody questioned its verdict, the opposition made it a point not to participate in the parliament.

“So why nobody questions the opposition for not playing by the spirit of democracy.”

“We always focus on the immediate. We are focused on elections, but we are not focused on the acceptance of the rules of the game, the moment we lose we reject the game,” he said.

Despite a flourishing and independent media and a vocal and powerful civil society, the government could not be held accountable in Bangladesh, Rizvi said.

And it was because, he said, the values and characteristics crucial to democracy are “often absent” in our own institutions.

“Unless we promote them as universal values applicable to all, it does not work. When it is simply applied to government it becomes a cliché and nobody buys it,” he said.

He said ‘free’ media ends up working for its owners and those who fund it — so it fails to hold the government accountable because it reflects “a very partial agenda”.

“It focuses selectively on the interest of the owners or the parties that own it. So we need media that is truly independent”.

He said research institutions, think tanks, intellectuals, and talk-show pparticipants have an important part to play to hold the government accountable, but their impact has been “limited” so far.

Rizvi said it was because of “our propensity to speak or address problems in a piecemeal manner without detailed empirical research”.

“What makes our advocacy, our think tanks ineffective is the lack of policy-focused empirical research. Unless we improve research in the long run we will not be able to make an effective contribution,” he said.

The Canadian envoy, however, said elections are only one part of democracy.

“I believe that most Bangladeshis realise this.”

She said both government and political leaders have an important role to play in delivering good governance. “But they cannot do it alone”.

Good governance requires honest and diligent work from political leaders, bureaucrats, independent institutions, civil society and the media, she said.

Citing attacks on minorities during the elections, Cruden said it “sadly demonstrated deep problems with the political culture in Bangladesh”.

Hindu families in Satkhira were “deliberately targeted because of their political and religious affiliations,” she noted.

16 February, 2014