Australian election: Kevin Rudd's triumph and Bangladesh context

Australian election: Kevin Rudd's triumph and Bangladesh context

The Labour Party has won an historic landslide in Australia’s general election on Saturday, defeating incumbent Prime Minister John Howard’s Liberal Party. Labour Party Leader Kevin Rudd is set to become Australia’s 26th prime minister, succeeding Howard who led the country for almost eleven and half years since 1996. Howard was re-elected in 1998, 2001 and 2004 to become Australia’s second-longest serving prime minister. This defeat marks the end of the Howard era.

Labour Party Deputy Leader Julia Gillard claimed victory on behalf of her party at about 8:30 PM local time. She declared on ABC TV that her party would be in power, with Rudd as prime minister, as Labour had already won the minimum of 76 seats required to form government. As vote count continues late into the night, Labour is likely to win a majority of at least 20 seats over the Liberals. Labour had benefited from a national swing of 5.7% votes in its favour. Howard faced a massive defeat, as he is unlikely to retain his own parliamentary seat in Bennelong in New South Wales (latest reports indicate Labour is close to declaring victory in Howard’s seat).

Addressing a victory celebration later in the night, Rudd announced in Brisbane that he would focus on unifying the country to face various national and global challenges. "I will be a prime minister for all Australians," Rudd promised in trying to unite Australians from different backgrounds and nationalities. He prioritised education, healthcare, climate change and water in his immediate agenda as prime minister.

Kevin Rudd’s Labour won the general election on a mandate for change epitomized by the party’s campaign slogan: "New Leadership: Fresh Ideas." The overwhelming victory can be attributed to Rudd’s success in rebranding Labour as a centrist political party, which appealed to a large number of first-time young voters who wanted to see change an end to Howard’s reign as Prime Minister. In this respect, Rudd has been favourably compared with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for magically rejuvenating his party to win a historic landslide.

Though Howard has been credited with Australia’s economic success and boom, it is evident that Rudd’s young, energetic and forward-looking vision for new leadership appealed more to voters. The election results corroborated earlier predictions based on opinion polls gauging public sentiment. Howard was defeated as he failed to realise that the economic boom was not enough to ensure his re-election, and failed to feel the pulse of the people in favour of change.

After more than a decade in power, it appears that Howard had lost his ability to connect to his electorate, and refused to admit that his time was up. On the other hand, Rudd, a former career diplomat, was able to connect to his electorate and offer something new. Despite repeated calls from his colleagues, Howard stubbornly refused to yield to demands for new leadership within the Liberal Party. He declined to pass the torch to the Liberal Party Deputy Leader Peter Costello, who was likely to have better electoral prospects. By overstaying his welcome and refusing to accept reality, Howard essentially invited the electoral debacle for both himself and his party.

To Rudd’s credit, Labour was able to attract the majority of the immigrant votes in the election. Australia has an increasing migrant population, including 131,000 people in 2006 alone. More than 24% of Australia’s population was born outside the country. Given the size of the migrant population, they form a significant vote bank in the country’s elections. The immigrant population includes a large number of Bangladeshis, who have been migrating to Australia since the early seventies.

Australians of Bangladeshi origin enthusiastically participated as voters in the election. This included many first-time voters, who have been able to enjoy their right to franchise after being granted citizenship. They were excited by the prospect of voting and having a say in the political process of the country that they have chosen as their new home.

According to random surveys conducted by this reporter, Bangladeshi Australians overwhelmingly voted for Labour in the election. Labour was widely perceived by the Bangladeshi community to be welcoming to immigrants, while many supported the party for its progressive taxation scheme and industrial policy, which were favourable to employees. With respect to immigration, the Labour Party has promised to introduce a new-style Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) and other measures to help new migrants integrate into Australian society and pursue their livelihoods. Moreover, Some cited Rudd’s pledge to withdraw troops from Iraq as the reason for voting Labour. Most Bangladeshi Australians appeared to echo the overall electorate’s quest for new leadership.

As far as Australia’s relationship with Bangladesh is concerned, the status quo close and friendly relationship is likely to remain unchanged. Australia has actively supported the multi-faceted reform initiatives undertaken by Bangladesh’s caretaker government led by Chief Adviser Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmad, supported by the military and civil society. In fact, Australia increased its support to Bangladesh by 33% this year. As a sincere development partner, Australia has appreciated the caretaker government’s drive against corruption and militancy. It is predicted that the support for Bangladesh, particularly the reform agenda, will continue uninterrupted under a Labour Party government led by Kevin Rudd.

The Australian election, particularly Rudd’s overwhelming victory against Howard’s massive defeat, serves as a valuable lesson for Bangladesh’s current political leadership. Howard has learnt the hard way not to take the electorate for granted, but in the process brought about an irreversible disaster for both himself and his party. He refused to accept the reality that it was time for him to step down and pave the way for younger, fresher and new leadership of the Liberal Party to take charge. One finds a similar parallel of fatigued and discredited leadership rejecting demands for internal changeover and reforms within the mainstream political parties in Bangladesh.

Both Begum Khaleda Zia of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Sheikh Hasina Wazed of Bangladesh Awami League (AL) stand accused of patronising rampant corruption, terrorism and militancy, but refuse to let go of the stewardship of their respective parties. Both leaders have not only proved themselves to be highly incompetent, but also currently face several corruption charges after the caretaker government initiated a nation-wide anti-corruption drive. In fact, Bangladesh was fast moving towards becoming a dysfunctional state due to both leaders’ tendency towards what is known as "toxic leadership" in management literature.

Despite standing discredited in the eyes of the people, and strong undercurrents for leadership change within their political parties, both Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina seem to be repeating Howard’s mistake by obstinately remaining at the helm of affairs in their respective parties. Just like Howard, they fail to realise that once upon a time they had their opportunity and time in the near past, but it is over now.

Politics is all about timing and expediency. 1/11 is changing our political culture and how our people want to see the patron-client relationship develop with our politicians. The post-1/11 political leadership must understand that people want better service delivery and accountability in ensuring a qualitative change in improving our overall governance.

It is imperative for the existing political leadership to heed to the fact that it cannot be business as usual anymore. The future of the two political parties essentially depends on the torch of leadership being passed to the younger generation, which are not only free from the association with poor governan

ce but are also able to offer something fresh and new to the electorate. Otherwise, the lesson learnt from the Australian experience is that they will bring misfortune upon themselves as well as their parties.

In Australia, Rudd has shown how young, fresh and new leadership can rejuvenate not only a political party but also an electorate and a country in its entirety. This should serve as an inspiration to the talented up and coming new leadership, not only within BNP and AL but also other emerging political platforms and parties. The old leadership have proven themselves to be irrelevant to our future aspirations. New leadership, whether in existing or new political platforms, can help carve a new future for our people and country. 1/11 has provided the "enabling" or "facilitating" environment required for energetic, visionary and forward-looking leadership to face our challenges.

As Rabindranath Tagore elucidated in his time-less poem Shobujer Obhijan, "Ore Nobin Ore Amar Kacha/Ore Shobuj, Ore Obhujh/Adha Morader Gha Mere Tui Bacha" (Oh Young, Oh Tender/Oh Green, Oh Unknowing/ Get Involved and You Save Us).

Australian needed "New Leadership: Fresh Ideas." So does Bangladesh.

Ifti Rashid is a former lecturer, researcher and consultant. He is currently a PhD student at the Monash Asia Institute, Monash University, Australia under the Australian Leadership Awards scholarship program.

News Source

Place your ads here!

No comments

Write a comment
No Comments Yet! You can be first to comment this post!

Write a Comment