Minus 1 – or the loser now will be later to win
I finished the last post by noting that forecast is hard, particularly about the future. Anyone who works in the forecasting business – political pundits, macroeconomists, weather guys, doctors – would tell you how the particular event being forecast is a special case that lowers the chance of getting it right. So I won’t bother with making a call about which of the players in Bangladesh’s political dance will survive the next few weeks (the conventional wisdom is that a lot is to happen in the month since Hasina Wajed’s release). Instead, I do three things. First, I show why cutting a deal with either of the netris is sensible for Gen Moeen. Second, I point out that it is not in either netri’s interest to cut a deal – that’s what the title refers to. Third, I wonder what this might mean for the regime’s hand.
There are actually very good reasons why Gen Moeen should cut a deal with either of the netris. There are also good reasons why both netris should reciprocate.
1. Moeen-Hasina deal.
They both face a common foe. Hasina was ready to ratify Moeen’s actions last March. Sure she didn’t figure that Moeen wants (at least a share of) power. But recall the non-negotiables from both sides (indemnity for Moeen, retribution for Hasina). A deal can be arranged that guarantees both non-negotiables. Particularly, if Moeen is given full protection of Awami politics, it will be very hard if not impossible for anyone to seek vengeance on him.
2. Moeen-Khaleda deal.
If the trends from the past three election holds (big if, I know), jatiyatabadi brand of politics will continue to have more votes. This means, if Moeen is intent on getting into politics (as opposed to being content with a safe guarantee), BNP is better for him. And if her son’s safety is all that matters to Khaleda, she may well deliver the party to the general (most of the party has been ready to be delivered for a while).
Should they stay or should they go?
While Moeen has good reasons to choose either of the netris as partners, from the netris’ perspective, it makes sense not to play. Think about the deal being offered – go overseas, sit the election out, we’ll ensure that your party wins the election, the party will elect me as the president, and then you can return as the queen. The snag is, only one side can win the election. Yes, I know, there is talk of national government. Let me restate then, only one side can provide the prime minister in that government. No matter how it is cut, Moeen can make only one lot of politicians happy after the election.
Suppose for argument’s sake that it is Hasina who has cut the deal. She has already gone overseas. It is abundantly clear that the party is with her. Everything goes according to plans, Awami League wins the next election (in a free and fair manner), Moeen is the president, and someone nominated by Hasina is the PM.
In this world, it is pretty clear that all the jatiyatabadis will be very unhappy. While Hasina returns as the queen, their netri will be exiled in some foreign land. Why would the latter not become the ‘champion of democracy’ in that world?
Meanwhile, what exactly would Hasina gain by returning? An overbearing president in Moeen, and an ambitious set of leaders who would have demonstrated that they can win without the netri – these don’t seem like much of a prize.
And exactly the same reasoning holds for Khaleda.
So, it seems to me that whichever netri actually cuts a deal is effectively being minussed. Knowing this, why would they sign up?
Presumably, this is why Khaleda is refusing to accept the deal, even at the risk of her son’s health. And as long as Khaleda refuses to go, Hasina staying away hurts Awami League, and the pressure rises for Hasina to renege on whatever has been agreed to with the regime.
What does that mean? Well, it means that minus 1 won’t work. Either both the netris will be gone, or neither will.
Indeed, even if the regime does everything that may have been promised, it makes sense for Hasina to renege on the deal and return to Dhaka before the election to lead the party. What exactly could the regime do to stop her?
The question then is, surely the regime knows all this, so why are they seeking to have the netris out?
One possibility is that the regime is too weak, and have no other option left. If this is the case, then within a few weeks, everything will unravel. Khaleda will refuse to go. Hasina will return. And all the deals will over.
But there is another possibility. The regime knows it has a good hand, and it is ready to raise the ante. If this is the case, they will release Khaleda and send Arafat Rahman overseas, and then proceed with the election plans. What can the netris actually do?
If it is the former, then we can guess how things will end up. If it is the latter, then we will truly be in uncharted waters. Get some pop corn kids, there’s still a lot of game left.