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Strongest majority vs weakest opposition in Bangladesh election

Publication Date : 07-01-2014


With the election over, a new pattern in parliamentary democracy is going to emerge in Bangladesh after the restoration of Westminster-style democracy in 1991.

It will be a combination of the most brute majority treasury bench that the country has ever seen and the weakest opposition. The February 15, 1996 situation is overlooked here as the parliament then lasted 11 days only and that too just to amend the constitution to introduce the caretaker government system.

In terms of people's representation, the new parliament will be one of the poorest.

The ruling Awami League has so far won 232 seats – 127 of them unopposed. There are eight more seats to go to voting on January 16, most of which AL is set to snap up.

AL or for that matter any other party has never got so many seats until now (the February 1996 case is ignored again for the same reason, its very short tenure).

On the other hand, the opposition, expected to be Jatiya Party, has got 33 seats, 20 of them unopposed. It will then certainly be the smallest opposition bench (the current parliament's opposition of BNP and its allies consists of 34 MPs, who were elected in the last general election.)

Jatiya Party will be weak in every sense because it was an ally of AL and only split from the alliance when BNP threatened to boycott the election. In its search for an opposition, AL invented JP as one.

There also appears a significant difference between BNP and Jatiya Party as opposition. BNP, although it had bagged only 30 seats in 2008 election, still enjoyed a huge voter support of 32.5 per cent.

On the other hand, Jatiya Party's voter base is considered to be around 7 per cent as was apparent in the fully contested 2008 electionWith such a deadly combination, it can be anybody's guess how effectively a role parliament is going to play.

The EC officials' early analysis of the just concluded general election shows that around 40 per cent voters cast their votes to elect 147 candidates. This figure is in sharp contrast with the observation of the Election Working Group (EWG) that says turnout was around 30 per cent. This newspaper's own observation and also of multiple TV channels throughout the day also found a very thin turnout. So the 40 per cent figure remains a mystery.

However, this is just a simplistic view of the election because not a single vote was cast in half the seats (153 to be exact) where candidates were elected unopposed.

So the new government that the AL is going to form soon is basically based on this 40 per cent votes coming out of 147 seats.

But parliament is of 300 seats and so if one spreads this 40 per cent votes among all the seats it fundamentally means the new government will have the mandate of only 20 per cent of the total voters of 91.9 million.

A government backed by only 20 per cent of the total votes is poorly represented.

The turnout is also the second lowest for Bangladesh after the 1996 February 15 election when 26.5 per cent votes were cast. The parliament that was born of this voting lasted only 11 days.

In many developed countries elections are held with around 40 per cent votes cast. In that sense this election's turnout was not that bad in the wake of violence and boycott.

However, looking at Bangladesh voting is a festivity. And the normal turnout remains in the range of 70 per cent with the highest 87 per cent in the last election of 2008 and 55 per cent in 1991.

In comparison, 40 per cent turnout this time pales considerably. And so it is something to be pondered if a parliament with 20 per cent representation carries the mandate of the people.



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