An article, published recently on a local Bengali daily, said that the government might face diplomatic challenges in Bangladesh’s upcoming national election. Frankly speaking, this is not something unusual that the ruling power has been experiencing for the last few years.
Therefore, there remains every possibility that the same story might repeat this time also.
What happened during few previous elections? We can easily see the earnestness and exertions of the foreign diplomats in our national politics, particularly parliamentary elections.It is difficult to say that their desires would not come up again during the upcoming election. Generally it is assumed that a national election in Bangladesh will take place once a government completes a 5-year term. The voters will cast their votes and elect new parliament members. Thus the country and the people will get a new government.
Foreign diplomats working in Bangladesh are neither voters nor candidates. Then, what is their role in our elections? Maximum, they can request to allow their observers to monitor our elections. It is also subject to the approval of our Election Commission. I do not understand why foreign diplomats are so much keen in the internal affairs of Bangladesh. Is there any hidden story behind this?
People used to say in the village - beautiful wife of a poor man is everyone’s sister-in-law (Bhabi). May be such feelings about Bangladesh existed in the mind of some countries’ people at one time. Now the scenario has changed. It should not be difficult for the foreign diplomats to understand that. If someone of us tries to flap them to prevent from understanding the situation, I believe the diplomats would understand the reality with their diplomatic expertise and common sense. So there should not be any question of their interference in our elections.
It is a reprehensible conduct if a foreign diplomat is found engaged in any activities beyond diplomatic norms and practices. Naturally, we never expect any outside interference in our internal matters. I never thought of engaging myself in such activities in my long diplomatic career. A diplomat who plays any unwanted role in the internal affairs of the country of posting may face problems including forced expulsion as ‘persona non grata’. In fact, such kind of involvement of a diplomat is inappropriate and unwelcome.
We like to see the participation of all political parties in our elections. At the same time, we would be happy to see free, fair and transparent elections. However, if any party does not want to participate in the elections due to their political, organisational or other reasons, no one can force them to participate. But, it would be totally unacceptable, if the government is embarrassed with undemocratic or unconstitutional demands. We should not forget that the interest of the country gets more priority than the interest of any party or person. One must keep this in mind that tarnishing country’s image is nothing but losing own respect. Such act does not earn anything for the country except dishonour.
Every democratic country in the world has its national elections following its constitutional obligations. Do in any country in the world like Bangladesh foreign diplomats interfere in their internal affairs? Of course, it is impossible. A nation or a person having self-respect can never do such things. They themselves solve their problems. It is difficult, but not so much difficult to understand why our political leaders are in such a wretched state. Don’t we have any way of salvation from this?
How did so much disbelief, lack of confidence and intolerance get rooted in the political field after so many years of independence? Bangladesh is moving along the path of democracy forgetting the past miseries. The foundation of economic and social development is being strengthened day by day. Then who is keeping all these odds of politics alive? Is it the party in government or opposition, or any other power? Or, is it our political inferiority or any hidden intention of selfishness? Will not our political culture change in any way?
We know that the then opposition party BNP did not participate in the 10th General Elections held in January 2014. Whatever their motives were, it is true that BNP did not participate. There might be various calculations in politics. Political foresight is very essential for leadership, at least in party’s decision making. Any wrong decision not only makes the party sufferer, but throws the supporters in uncertainty. And ultimately it damages the party.
Sometimes we lose our trust on our own feet and like to walk on others’ feet. None would assure that they would not leave us in the midway. Are we hankers after power? Then, to whom we will go for that? Will we go to the foreign diplomats? Instead, we should go to the people. They are the source of power, the owner of the country. Only they have the right to vote. Only they can help a party to form the government and run the country. No foreigner can help in this regard. It is better to think about the country and its people. They will not make us disappointed.
As a democratic country, Bangladesh contains many political parties or organisations. It is natural that a party/coalition will form the government and a party/coalition will be in the opposition. The role of both sides in a parliamentary democracy is very important, especially to the country and the people. A strong opposition can resist the anti-people policies or activities of the government in a democratic way. The reason is only one, the welfare of the country and its people. However, when a political party prefers only the interests of the party and the party men ignoring the interests of the country and the people, then the people will certainly refuse that party. Such party cannot survive for long.
A politician should be patriot, visionary, patient, tolerant and strong in mind and character. There might be differences of opinion among political parties on many issues of the country. However, it is expected that country’s internal issues would remain among parties. Problems should be resolved through discussion. Being capable of running the country, it is not difficult for the politicians to solve any problem. Then why is not it happening? Is it for that the politicians are manipulative, frenzy? Or is there any other purpose? Resolving any national problem is not a difficult task for the politicians who are liberal, tolerant and self-respecting.
In April 2013, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry organised a briefing for the heads of diplomatic missions in Malaysia to brief their national elections scheduled for May. Malaysian Chief Election Commissioner gave that briefing. In response to a question about the participation of foreign observers, he said that the ASEAN member countries (4/5 countries) would only be allowed to send observers to monitor the elections. He also informed that diplomats would not be allowed to monitor the elections as observers. It is to be noted that no foreign diplomat had criticised that position of the Malaysian government. In that context, I never heard that any opposition party of Malaysia had approached any foreign diplomat to intervene or any diplomat advised any opposition party against Malaysian government’s decision. The elections were held in time according to their constitution. We, the diplomats, only sent reports on the elections to our respective government. However, there was smaller cabinet to look after normal routine work of the government during the election period.
Bangladesh, like Malaysia, has a five-year term government. If the parliament is not dissolved earlier, the schedule for the next election is announced as usual. And the election schedule is not announced by the government, the Bangladesh Election Commission does it. Election Commission is an independent organisation. The upcoming national elections of Bangladesh, that means, the 11th National Elections might be held in 2018. To make this election fair and neutral is entirely the responsibility of the Election Commission. Of course, the various organs of the government would extend all supports and cooperation as and when asked by the commission.
It is normal that foreign diplomats working in Bangladesh would send detailed report to their respective government about the upcoming national elections. That is why they may need to talk to many people including the Election Commission and obviously they will try to get them. Keeping this in mind, political parties participating in the elections can organise briefing sessions for the diplomats before the election. The Election Commission might also organise an election-briefing for the diplomats, preferably after announcing the election schedule.
We are confident that diplomats working in Bangladesh will play a strong role in strengthening and widening their countries’ relationship with Bangladesh. At the same time, we expect that our politicians would take forward all development activities of Bangladesh through full implementation of the democratic practices and would solve any internal issues raised including the national elections. However, it is better not to romp to foreign diplomats.
The writer is a former Ambassador and Secretary