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2019 not just a change of calendar

New answers and ways have to be forged

2019 ushered in not just a change of calendar but a wholly novel political reality. Brute combination of ruling party, officialdom, law enforcement and partisan media has featured in socio-political environment today.

There is a credibility collapse of the election process and a concomitant moral crisis surrounding the right to rule. Three official electoral statistics of the December 30 election underscore the credibility crisis.

The regime may have been extraordinarily efficient in managing the election aftermath but the severity of the credibility crisis surrounding the electoral process and outcome has only gotten deeper as personal and eyewitness accounts proliferate in quiet and unquiet whispers across the land.

The belief which has gained ground is that the ruling group is bent on denying an atmosphere of competitive elections. Not surprisingly, voter enthusiasm and voter interest have thus reached a nadir with empty ghost booths becoming the signature image for the just-concluded Dhaka North election.

 A country defined by the bravery of its birth is now being defined by an extraordinary sense of powerlessness pervading the citizenry at large. The weakening of political contestation has not merely been a democratic loss but has spawned a “new normal” of political governance built on four pillars: marginalisation of those at the grassroots, political encroachment on social space, economic governance run on crony principles and entrenched corruption, and relentless empowerment of the security establishment over civic rights.

Another manifestation is a paradoxical situation where there is both relative political calm and pronounced uncertainty about the future: a case of “uncertainty despite stability”. The stubborn stagnation of the rate of private investment in Bangladesh is testament to an atmosphere of “uncertainty despite stability”.

This offers no easy way out for those despairing at the pervasive sense of powerlessness. For the moment, the mood appears to be one of impotent anger, withdrawal and pursuit of private agendas. But it would be a mistake to assume that the will to resist injustices and restore an inclusive dream of quality and dignity has fallen by the wayside. Nothing has come easy in our journey. New answers and new ways forward have to be forged.

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