… brought on by the Pakistani election and Gen Moeen’s India trip. Lots of questions. Not enough answers.
1. Election rigging ain’t easy.
Even in Musharraf’s Pakistan they couldn’t rig an election. Could Iajuddin and co really deny the Grand Alliance a win in January 2007? I was never convinced about AL’s decision to boycott the election. But then again, I haven’t met a single non-BNP supporter who thought the election would be even remotely fair.
Anyway, we cannot go back to January 2007. But we can discuss what might happen in the election, whenever it is held. Sure the regime will try to manipulate it. But is there any reason to think that they’ll be able to rig an outcome that is broadly against the popular mood? They may disqualify a few popular candidates here and there, but if the general mood is for a 45-50% votes for AL, then it’s hard to see AL not winning a landslide (this is just an example, not a prediction). If this is the case, then is there any reason why we should support any calls for boycott?
2. Regime knows that election rigging ain’t easy.
Of course the intelligent folks at DGFI can do the same calculation as us. So surely they know that rigging an election to allow a King’s Party (Jatiyatabadi Moha Front) win is pretty hard. Given this, what is likely to be their game plan?
Surely an election without AL will have no credibility to anyone. So the regime will try to do everything it can to entice AL into the election. But what does it need to do have AL in the fray, but deny AL a win?
Electoral maths is that anti-AL is the majority, but they are divided and demoralised. To win in a fair election, anti-AL has to be united and capture the swinging voters. Can Jatiyatabadi Maha Front achieve this?
If not, then what other choices does the regime have but to cut a deal with AL? But what is AL’s incentive in rescuing the regime?
3. Why should AL play ball?
Why shouldn’t AL say that any negotiations and deals will have to be done after the election, participate in the election and try to win convincingly?
Or at least its foreign policy chattering classes — TV talk show guests and newspaper columnists — aren’t for it. I was in India in the week after the Pakistani election and during Moeen’s trip. The overwhelming message was this: Pakistan and Bangladesh are really ruled by armies anyway, and civilian politicians will never concede to India what it wants, so India should forget about idealism and support the generals.
5. Is anti-India no longer a factor in Bangladesh?
We know what India wants from us: cheap gas, transit rights, Chittagong port (for the record, I’m personally for selling gas at the right price, giving transit rights in exchange for labour mobility into India, and Chittagong port in exchange for access to the Indian market for our gppds and services — will post in detail when democracy is restored). And presumably Moeen wants India’s support come the election time.
But isn’t Moeen’s so well publicised hobnobbing with India quite odd? When was the last time a Bangladeshi leader of any stature spend six days in India (Hasina’s exile doesn’t count, she wasn’t a leader then)? Public display of affection towards India used to be a kiss of death in our politics. Mere suggestion that Khaled Musharraf was pro-India was enough to doom his coup in 1975 — and that was within a few years of Liberation War, and the man playing the anti-Indian card was not a pro-Pakistan type. Even in 1996, Hasina visited China and Saudi Arabia before travelling to New Delhi. So how can Moeen so confidently and publicly embrace India?
I should stress here that I am not advocating irrational anti-Indianism at all. My point is that there used to be a significant anti-Indian constituency in Bangladesh, the very constituency that any Jatiyatabadi Maha Front will have to win in an election. There are many people who will never vote for AL because of its past relations with India.
But how will Moeen win their support after this trip? Or is it the case that the anti-India is no longer a factor in Bangladesh?
And what about the army itself? Surely a trip like this couldn’t have been done without full support of the top brass. Are we to assume that it’s not just Moeen the individual, but the substantial majority of the top brass that are not as anti-Indian as they once were?