Zafar Sobhan: 2012 is 2006 in reverse

This is Zafar’s take on the change/renewal of power in Bangladesh.

Given that he is well connected, has been in the media for some time and knows how to analyse, his warning (veiled though it is) should be taken seriously. 

With all articles emanating from Dhaka, one must read between the lines and/or expand on a line (half said) to grasp the true implications of what the message really is. In other words, it’s going to be a hell of a lot worse than is being intimated here.




2012 is 2006 in reverse

AL is calculating that the country would rather have a one sided election than allow the army to step in to restore order.

he best way to understand politics today is to see that 2012 is essentially 2006, if not 1996, in reverse.

At first glance, 1996 seems like the more obvious analogy. In 1996, we had a BNP government with the Opposition AL calling hartal after hartal to demand the institution of a caretaker government to administer the elections. In the end, the BNP succumbed, passing a constitutional amendment to form the caretaker administration, and were booted from office, losing the subsequent election held.

Fast forward 16 years, and we once again have an AL government, with the BNP in Opposition. But in the intervening time, the AL has repealed the caretaker government law and plans to administer the next general election itself. Thus, the BNP today are essentially where the AL were in 1996.

But, psychologically, and also in terms of probable outcome, 2012 is more like 2006. In 2006, the caretaker government was in place, but still the AL felt that it was dominated by pro-BNP types and that the fix was in. In response, they hit the streets to ensure that there would be no elections.

What makes 2012 more like 2006 than 1996 is the options open to us and the probable end-games. Having recently repealed the caretaker government law, the AL is unlikely to be bullied into reinstating it (though that would be the smart and statesmanlike and shrewd thing to do). This movie won’t end like it did in 1996.

In 2006, the AL only really ever had one successful possible end-game. For a party in Opposition that refuses to go to the polls, there can only be one end-game. The best they could hope for would be to fight the government to a standstill on the streets and ensure that no elections could be held.

In the end, though, there is only one way for an Opposition party to come to power, and that is through elections. And in the end, if you don’t trust the government (or the caretaker government, as was the case in 2006) to hold free and fair elections, the only other entity capable of administering elections is the army.

The BNP may deny that this is their end-game, as the AL did in 2006, but what else could it possibly be?

The AL could pre-empt such a thing by reinstating the caretaker government. It would be an incredibly shrewd move on their part. Recall that the fracas in 2006 arose because the AL believed that the caretaker government was in the BNP’s pocket.

Now, having used all its powder to bring about a caretaker government, it would be very hard for the BNP to make a similar argument. It is possible that the whole repeal of the caretaker government law is an elaborate bait and switch, and that the AL plans to reinstate it at the last moment, but then pack it with their cronies as the BNP did in 2006.

Having fought so hard for the caretaker government, the BNP would then be wrong-footed, and have a hard time arguing against it, as the AL did in 2006. They would then be stuck with the caretaker government, even it were filled with crypto-ALers.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the game. All indications are that the AL will go to the mat on the issue and has no intention of compromising. The reason is that the caretaker government may provide an opening for the army to step in as it did in 2007. This is certainly a risk, and one can understand the AL’s hesitation. It doesn’t want what happened to the BNP in 2006 to happen to it.

All well and good. Unfortunately, the reality is that if the caretaker government is not reinstated, then the BNP will refuse to participate in the elections (with some grounds), and the country will once again come to a standstill. And that will open the door to the army to step in and adjudicate the matter.

The AL is calculating that the country would rather have a one-sided election followed by another five years of AL rule than sit idly by while the army steps in to restore order. It’s a fair bet; the Bangladeshi people are and always will be sceptical of army intervention, even for a short time and even in an ostensibly good cause.

But if the government’s popularity continues to plummet in the next year, and the general consensus is that the BNP would win fair elections, and if the BNP itself favours army-administered elections to AL-administered ones, then all bets are off.


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