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The upcoming elections in Bangladesh, scheduled for January 2024, are significant for a country with a population of more than 167 million people and significant political and economic influence in the region. Since the end of military rule in 1991, the country has been ruled by the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), except for a two-year military rule in 2007. Today, the opposition is calling for a caretaker government to oversee the upcoming elections, citing concerns about the fairness of the process. However, history has shown that such interim governments can lead to instability and even violence, making it essential to find alternative solutions to ensure free and fair elections.
One possible solution is to increase international observation efforts to ensure the January elections are conducted fairly. The European Union and other international organizations can play a critical role in this regard. The alternative of an unelected provisional government will suffer from a fundamental lack of legitimacy, and the past experience of Bangladesh with such a government descending into dictatorial rule is a stark warning for today.
Failed experiments with interim governments are not limited to Bangladesh. Examples can be seen in countries such as Iraq, Lebanon, and Pakistan, where caretaker governments have tended to be weak, reflecting the divisions within their respective societies. Such governments often stay beyond their intended mandate, leading to further instability and even violence. In Israel, a system of short-term caretaker governments was installed to ensure neutrality during elections, but this approach has often been an abject failure, leading to ineffective rule and failed attempts at a smooth and peaceful transition of power.
Opposition should not be shut out and ignored, but it is essential to find ways to breed a broad national consensus rather than imposing sweeping changes that lack legitimacy. Healing societal divisions and achieving national consensus is the way forward, not the installation of a caretaker government that could set the country back years if not decades. Abraham Lincoln’s words advocating for government “of the people, by the people, (and) for the people” are just as relevant in Bangladesh today as they were one-hundred and sixty years ago.
The decisions Bangladesh makes in the coming year will significantly impact the region and abroad, as democracy is increasingly under threat around the world. It is up to the people of Bangladesh to ensure free and fair elections take place on time as prescribed, sending a strong signal that democracy is alive and well in the country. The United States and the international community are watching, and it is essential not to let them down.
Corruption is a persistent problem in Bangladesh, and while concerns about its impact on the election are legitimate, they are insufficient to justify overhauling the democratic process. Rather than imposing an unelected provisional government, the international community can play a more significant role in ensuring that the election is conducted fairly. It is essential to respect the will of the people and allow them to have their say, even if this means that the outcome may not be what some parties were hoping for.
In conclusion, the upcoming elections in Bangladesh are of great significance, and the country must take steps to ensure that they are conducted fairly and transparently. The installation of a caretaker government is not the solution, as history has shown that such governments can lead to instability and even violence. The international community must play a more significant role in ensuring that the election is conducted fairly, and all parties must respect the will of the people. The decisions made in Bangladesh in the coming year will send a strong signal throughout the region and the world, and it is essential not to let democracy falter in the face of challenges and threats.
Written by Camille Dubois
Cover Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash
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