Concerns of Patriotic Awami League Supporters

by Sadeq R. Chowdhury | January 13, 2014 4:04 pm

Many supporters of the Awami League (AL) are very conscious and patriotic, who support the AL because they love Bangladesh and believe that the AL has the right progressive ideology for overall socio-economic development of the country. They are neither blind nor opportunist supporters. They do not get any direct or indirect personal benefits when the party goes to power. They admired Bangabandhu or support Sheikh Hasina because they love Bangladesh, not the reverse. They are the real patriotic supporters whose spirit is probably the original spirit of founding the AL. I often talk to many such AL supporters about the current crisis in the country and find some common concerns about the recent political strategy of the AL.

Most of these supporters are educated, intelligent and long-term supporters. They stood by the AL even in those dog days after 1975 when the party was struggling. They patiently remained faithful and looked forward that someday the AL will come to power and lead the country’s development the same way it led our liberation movement. When the AL came back to power after many years in 1996, they were very happy and looked forward to the leadership of AL. When the party came to power again this time with a landslide victory, these supporters became even more excited. They were hoping that the AL would make a lasting change in the quality of politics in Bangladesh. They were very glad to see that the killers of Bangabandhu were brought under justice. The supporters along with many non-supporters stood behind the AL when the government initiated the trials of war criminals. Their management of the country’s economy was also reasonably good. They accelerated or at least maintained the rate of economic growth. In many sectors like education and power, their performance was noteworthy. If they could maintain at least the average performance they could win this election because the opposition was not that organized and the young generation was increasingly valuing the spirit of independence.

Unfortunately, while the AL government was doing well in some areas they started making some political mistakes. As I often communicate with many intelligent AL supporters, it appears many of them were initially confused and now they are either skeptical or already disappointed with the AL strategy which brought the country in its current turmoil. For example, most of them did not understand why it was necessary to criticize or make an effort to downgrade Prof. Yunus. It was never clear to many supporters what was to be achieved. Since Prof. Yunus is not a political person, the AL should not have put that much importance. By repeatedly making statements by the prime minister herself against Prof Yunus, she not only undermined her position but it also gave a wrong impression of her government to the world. That put her government in line with many autocratic governments in the world that treated their Nobel laureates in the same manner. Particularly, it deteriorated our relationship with the U.S. who likes to see a non-fundamentalist party like the AL runs Bangladesh but at the same time they could not support a party who unnecessarily harass a Nobel Laureate whose impression is very good overseas, particularly in the US.

Most believe that the biggest mistake of the AL was their strategy about the Caretaker Government system. Even after the mistreatment of Prof. Yunus and several other failures like Padma Bridge scandal or Hallmark loan scam, the Hasina government could still remain a viable competitor in the reelection and could well win the election under a Caretaker Government if they did not start playing politics with the election process. The Caretaker Government system was introduced by themselves through a successful movement. This is a unique system that attracted considerable attention of many other countries. The system had some problems in the past which they could try to rectify and improve rather than abolishing it. Moreover, if there is any residual weakness with the system it would be the same for all parties, not only for the AL. Many people believe that the peaceful handover of power that happened over the last few terms is due to credible elections under the system of Caretaker Government. The same system helped the AL to come back to power twice; otherwise it may not have been possible. If they sincerely believed that the Caretaker Government system was not good they should have first convinced the main opposition. Since the opposition did not agree, they should have backed off or they should have scheduled to introduce it from the next election, not at a time when they are in power. It did raise genuine doubt in voters mind if they were really sincere or they were just playing games to remain in power. Many supporters of the AL do not think that unilaterally abolishing the Caretaker Government system and facing the current political problems was a prudent strategy.

The outcomes from the current strategy of staying in power without a credible election are unlikely to be good for the party or the country. One possibility is that the AL is prepared to leave anyway but trying to be in power as long as possible. This is a short term and short sighted plan that will only allow opportunist leaders and advisors to continue enjoying their positions and powers. During this time, they may try to complete the trials of war criminals to get appreciations of the supporters. However, such trials under a government without full recognition will be more questionable. Some supporters may be happy but this may ultimately make the sympathizers of war criminals or anti-liberation forces even stronger in the longer run. If the AL government has to leave because of internal and international pressures they may have to pay a high price. They may end up in a position to some extent like they were in after 1975.

The other broader outcome the AL strategies may be thinking is that by conducting an election somehow without caring about recognition they will remain in power for the full term until the next election and by then the opposition will be very weak who will never be reorganized and the voters will forget everything. First of all, it may be difficult to stay in power for the full term as they will keep losing public support with increasing opposition protest and violence along with losing their own moral strength. If they think that by arresting, detaining and harassing the opposition leaders and workers they will make them weaker, their assumption is more likely to turn out wrong. Even in the extreme case, if they can manage to make the Jamaat-e-Islami or other anti-liberation forces disappear now, they will come back later in a different form. It may make the opposition weaker in the short run but not in the long run. This is a basic lesson the AL leaders should have learned from their long experience in politics. For instance, two years ago the BNP appeared weaker and the AL had a better chance of winning and now after all these BNP-bashing policies the BNP seems to have a better chance of winning under a fair election.

Many intelligent AL supporters agree that the AL is following a wrong strategy. They believe that the strategists or advisors of Hasina are either politically not talented enough or they just trying to please the prime minister. They definitely like to see that the AL governs the country, not the BNP. But at the same time, they like to see that the AL deserves to be in the government through democratic process – by playing fair politics, not by using the government power. They like to see that the AL shows the leadership and vision required to take the country forward, definitely not by engaging in never ending conflict with the opposition and ignoring the potential down turn of our development. They like to see that any party that does not value the spirit of our liberation becomes marginalized in the Bangladeshi politics but this should be achieved by creating public awareness and using cleaver politics. Moreover, because of our socio-religious background, there will always be a small section of the population who may not agree with the AL views about our liberation and our future. We have to be prepared to deal with them politically. We have to be accommodating and reconciliatory in some cases. Even Bangabandhu was reconciliatory after the independence. The current strategy may be a short term gain or success for the opportunist advisors and ministers but it will be a great loss for the nation, for our democracy, for our economy, for the long term image of the party and of course for the patriotic supporters of the AL.

These AL supporters do not think that BNP was mature in their reaction either. The BNP was also not looking after the interest of the country and not trying to avoid the path of destruction and violence. Otherwise, they could shift slightly from their position and try to join the election by making some compromises particularly at a time when many thought they had a good chance of winning. As the AL offered, the BNP could join the interim government by taking charge of some important ministries and participate in the election. With so much attention in the election process now, it would be difficult for the government to manipulate the results; they could not do it in the recent municipal elections. However, in any case, the party in power has the main responsibility to resolve the political crisis by being more accommodating and proactive. Most intelligent AL supporters nowadays talk more about what AL failed to do rather than what the BNP could have done. After all, they have more expectations on their own party rather than on the BNP which they never trusted.

The patriotic AL supporters are frustrated with the political situation in the country. Sheikh Hasina or AL strategists should consider the viewpoints of these supporters. The AL leadership will make a big mistake if they think that all supporters will be with them whatever they do. If a small section of the supporters leaves along with neutral voters, it will be difficult for the AL to come back soon. Moreover, there is always a possibility of the emergence of a third force. It may be late for them to recover the damage they have already done but it is never too late to start doing what is good for the democracy and the long term interest of our nation by following a strategy that is sellable not only to the supporters but also to the general voters.

*Sadeq R. Chowdhury is a mathematical statistician living in Maryland, USA.

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