Those watching the unfolding of drama in Egypt are bemused by the politics of the progressives, the liberal voice that led the fight against the Hosni Mobarak regime. The Mobarak regime was abolished, but the liberals could not organise into an effective political block to enjoy the fruit of democratic elections. Instead, the spoils of their efforts went to the organised, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Nour party. Between them, they had a huge majority in parliament, which was soon dismissed. The presidential elections were a bit more even, with Morsi winning the presidency with 52 percent of the vote. That also means 48 percent of the people, half the country's population, voted against Morsi. Now Morsi has been forcibly removed from power. The outcome was probably inevitable, for the old military regime could not be expected to give up so easily the power and privileges that they enjoyed for 50 years. What is surprising is that so many people, including the progressives and liberals, came out in favour of a military ouster of a democratically elected president.
Why did those who so actively worked for democratic reforms suddenly align themselves with the very forces that they opposed? And why do they actively support a military coup that destroys all semblance of democratic rule? It seems that at the heart of this change in attitude is the man Morsi himself. As one observer puts it, "..the refusal by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to run an inclusive government has sparked the massive uprising now seen in the streets. "[Morsi] was not governing Egypt in the interests of Egypt. He was not even seeing the Egyptian people or their demands, and he lost an amazing opportunity to actually have a government that actually worked for the majority of the people."
While the current political conditions in Bangladesh may not be as dramatic as what we witnessed in Egypt, certain similarities do exist. Following the Supreme Court verdict that repealed the 13th Amendment, the Constitution of the country was changed, the 15th Amendment was passed and the door to a caretaker government closed. Immediately, the BNP chief declared that all possibilities of holding free and fair elections in the country were gone with the passage of the 15th amendment, and confrontation was an inevitability. The PM, as recently as June, 2013, declared the caretaker government (CTG) idea dead. The BNP has steadfastly held on to its own position that the CTG must be restored; and with only months left before the issue comes to head, the rather hardened public positions of the two leading parties, there is justified fear that the politics of the street once again will overwhelm the rather delicate economic balance that exists in the country.
There is nothing, per se, wrong, with the 15th Amendment. Parliamentary democracies all over the world hold elections under the very same conditions laid out in the 15th amendment. But these democracies are mature, and have, over time, established the practices and procedures that all respect. The PM may be right that it is time to adopt the practices of mature democracies. And the PM is correct in pointing out that the BNP, as recently as 2006, tried to cynically manipulate the caretaker system of government to its advantage, resulting in a military-backed government. And to the government's credit, the recent City Corporation polls were generally free and fair. The BNP led opposition, during the past two years, had not offered a single idea that speaks to policies that advance the economic well being of the people. Instead, they have pandered to the likes of Hifazat-e Islam, those who salivate at the sight of "tetul". Yet, the AL supported candidates lost, and lost by very large margin. Does that constitute a rejection of the AL's position that a caretaker government is unnecessary? Perhaps or perhaps not, for surely these election results were more about the general tenure of the AL led government than just the caretaker government issue. The recent election defeat, may be more of a statement about a party that is seen by many as one that takes care of its own, ala Abul Hossain, and interest of the nation and its own people are simply set aside; and about a party that failed to deliver on its promise of good governance and equal treatment under the rule of law.
The PM has proposed a Peace and Development Model for the world to see. And one of the six points in that model is inclusiveness. Perhaps the PM should go back and look at her own model, and ask, what did she do to foster inclusiveness? Inclusiveness means consultations with all stakeholders, and empowering stakeholders to arrive at decisions that work for all. The Peace Model requires that institutions of good governance be strengthened. The people of the country gave the AL its opportunity to deliver on the promise of a government that responded to the needs of the people. Instead, the behaviour of the AL government has been Morsi like. If Morsi, in Egypt failed because he failed to be inclusive, the AL led government has followed a similar path. The AL and its allies had a commanding parliamentary advantage, but it forgot that 40 percent of the electorate voted for the BNP and its allies. The AL led government could muscle through the 15th Amendment, but who did it consult before pushing through the Amendment? Inclusive politics involves convincing those opposed to you of the virtues of your ideas, and constitutional changes should have the support of overwhelming majorities. Inclusive politics involve building coalitions with those of dissimilar views. Morsi failed to build the necessary coalitions and adopted the confrontational approach of ruling by decree. Morsi was decreed out.
The AL has declared the CTG dead, but has failed to build support for the approach. Even its allies are suspicious, let alone the opposition. And the opposition had declared its intent a long time back. Perhaps the PM is sincere that the elections under a partisan government will be free and fair, and the AL will accept the people's verdict. But the very people whose verdict she awaits, do not seem to believe that a partisan government can deliver free and fair elections. Many poll results, reported in popular dailies, suggest that an overwhelming majority see a CTG as necessary. The necessity may not be due to virtues of having a CTG; the necessity may simply be arising because people simply do not trust politicians to honour promises, or the necessity may be out of the desire to avoid the kind of deadlock and street politics that exact a high price on the daily lives of common people.
The PM is an experienced politician, and as we all know, the end game has to be clear, and strategies adopted to accomplish the desired end. So, what is the end game if the opposition will not yield to the PM's vision? And if the politics of the street begin to overwhelm, how does the AL government plan to extract itself from the mess? There are signs that the fear of the street is real: private investment in Bangladesh has steadily fallen. Investors don't like uncertainty, and politics in Bangladesh is heading towards it as if no compromise or solution can be found. The opposition has the same responsibilities as the party in power. So, what is the end game? The question applies equally to both the major parties.
Morsi was accused of not making concessions, of remaining intransigent. We all know of his fate. What awaits our two major political parties and their leaders if they fail to compromise and remain intransigent?
Muhammad Q. Islam, is an Associate Professor of Economics, John Cook School of Business, Saint Louis University, USA.