Things I’ll look out for ( in 2013 and beyond)

Posted in AL, BNP, politics by jrahman on January 3, 2013

In one of my previous day jobs involving forecasting, a colleague used to say that it was like urinating against the wind — you think it’s hot, while everyone else laughs at you.  However, the pundits at Financial Times seem to have gotten most of the things right about 2012.  Their 2013 predictions include possible evidence of life in Mars and Istanbul winning the 2020 Olympics.

Just as well that I don’t write for them, because I don’t really have anything profound or foolish to say about the thing most Bangladeshi political animals care about — the result of the 2013 election (which, incidentally, the outside world Guardian pundits don’t much care about).

Instead, let me imitate two of my favourite bloggers , and write about what I will be looking out for.

Two years ago, I wrote that I’d look out for five things: local government elections (which, since then, have restored BNP as a competitive political force, possibly capable of winning in 2013); trials (war crimes trial doesn’t seem to have worked out the way AL had expected it would, while time is running out for any trial of Tarique Rahman); civil society (which by now has turned away from the AL, is being wooed by BNP, and is still desperately seeking the mythical third force); India factor (amazingly, seems to have been effectively discarded as a political issue in Bangladesh); and communalism (which has undoubtedly risen, but so has the collective resolve against it).

In 2013 and beyond, I’ll be keeping my eye on the signs of one big thing as far as Bangladesh politics is concerned — the end of the era of dui netri.

Sheikh Hasina Wajed and Begum Khaleda Zia have led their respective parties for three decades now.  The end of the beginning of their era was in 1990, when they emerged as the leader of the urban uprising that toppled the Ershad regime.  Since then, they each have served as prime minister for roughly a decade.  For most Bangladeshis, politics is unimaginable without the two leaders.  And yet, if for no other reason than simple biology, their time will come to an end.

Now, I don’t think the end will be in 2013.  Both leaders will likely go into the election (or the street violence leading to the election) like the past four times.  But we’re probably seeing the beginning of the end of their era, and I’ll be looking for the signs of the end.

What does that end actually entail?  What exactly am I looking out for?

Not just the change of personnel at the top.  The logic of dynasty means that members of the leading families have a head start.  But BNP’s scion stands discredited, and there is no clear cut candidate in Awami League.  So the top positions are far more ‘open’ than one might believe.  But I’ll be looking out for not just the scions, but at things like who are becoming dominant in the party machinery or what kind of political tactics are being deployed.

Changes are easier to see in the opposition / ‘out’ parties — and that’s the case with BNP.  Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir is still acting as Secretary General, but with him in jail, Tariqul Islam seems to have emerged as the acting acting deputy to the party chairperson.  The thing about these men is that they were not high-fliers in BNP politics of the 1990s and 2000s.  They are not young men by any means — both are old enough to have been freedom fighter, in fact.  But both have come from the left (where they had national exposure) and has long record of grass root mofussil level politics for BNP.  With people like these running the party machine, I wonder whether a replay of top down Hawa Bhaban centric politics is likely, or even possible.  Meanwhile, BNP has not only avoided the political minefield of the war crimes trial, but it seems to have refreshed its approach to India and is thinking about economic matters.  These potentially signify a seriousness about governance hitherto unseen in BNP.

I’ll be looking out for more such changes in BNP.  If they happen, it would mean next time they are in power, they will do better than their 2001-06 record.

If BNP were to regain power, how will AL respond?  Unlike in 1991 or 2001, the party chief will bear the sole responsibility for an electoral defeat in 2013, particularly if the elections happen with the current prime minister still in office.  In such an event, will we see her leadership openly challenged?

Of course, it’s by no means certain that BNP will actually manage to win an election.  From personal correspondence with AL folks I get the impression that they are quite confident about winning re-election.  Of course, BNP also thought it could hang on to power after 2006.  But then again, there is always a first time for everything.  If AL were to retain power, we will truly be in an unchartered territory as far as our politics is concerned.

And all this assumes that an election actually happens as scheduled by the end of 2013.  That’s a brave assumption.  The conventional wisdom is that we are heading for a repeat of 1995-96 or 2006-07, with the players reversed.  That is, BNP is expected to boycott the election, and AL is expected to eventually toppled by ‘establishment’ pressure, with the eventual election sometime in 2014 or beyond.

Well, 2006-07 was not an exact repeat of 1995-96.  In the former case, BNP actually held a one-sided election, and the ‘caretakers’ managed to keep the generals away and hold a fresh election within months.  In the latter case, the army stepped in and stuck around for couple of years, with a rather haphazard attempt at refashioning political landscape.

Next time round, will they decide to stay for five years, and take a more systematic approach to the so-called minus-2?

I have no idea.  I’ll look out for the answer, in 2013 and beyond.

5 Responses

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  1. Diganta said, on January 3, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    “Istanbul winning the 2020 Olympics” – I stopped supporting them after the Bangladesh incident.

  2. Shafiq said, on January 4, 2013 at 4:28 am

    “Unlike in 1991 or 2001, the party chief will bear the sole responsibility for an electoral defeat in 2013”,
    How is that so? I could agree with 1991, but my distinct impression of 2001 election was that the middle class directly blamed Hasina, her potty mouth and her patrony of Hazari, Osmans et al as the main reason Awami league suffered such an unexpected debacle. If you recall, Awami league became such dispirited after 2001 that BNP govt and Tareq had virtually a free hand for the first three years without any meaningful opposition. Even such heinous crimes like murder of Kibria, Ahsanullah Master and the Grenade attack on 21st August could not enable Awami league to munt an effective anti government movement.

    Even in those dark days the leadership of Hasina was not questioned. I think you are too sanguine to hope that Hasina will face challenge if Awami league is routed from power. For Bangladesh Awami League challenging Hasina is akin to muslims challenging the authority of Muhammad.

    • jrahman said, on January 4, 2013 at 8:09 am

      According to AL faithful (and not the general urban middle class), AL was robbed of a victory by the ‘anti-AL establishment’ in both 1991 and 2001 elections. While the chattering classes may laugh at ‘shukkho karchupi’, the Awami base take that stuff very seriously. How can there be such anti-AL ‘election engineering’ if the party chief is the PM?

      Also, the party is far more centralised under her leadership now than was the case in 1991 or 2001, when seasoned politicians like Tofail Ahmed had a lot more say. And those old horses had to take a lot of blame for both defeats. In 1991, AL ended up with 92 seats against BNP’s 140. About two dozen seats won by BNP would have gone to AL if not for leftist candidates. Leftists ran those spoiler candidates after seat sharing arrangements broke down because of the over confidence of these old horses. The same people vetoed Hasina’s idea of holding a snap election in March-April of 2001, when the BNP-Jamaat alliance was still being ironed out. Both those election defeats therefore strengthened Hasina’s position inside the party. She doesn’t have any such alibi in 2013.

      All that said, perhaps there will be no challenge whatsoever. But then again, I am not predicting there will be. Rather, I will look out for signs of if there is.

  3. fugstar said, on January 4, 2013 at 5:41 am

    how long will it take civil society to die?

    • jrahman said, on January 4, 2013 at 8:13 am

      Civil society will leave on, with old men like Mr Anam replaced by young men like my friend Mr Sobhan, and old men like Prof Sobhan replaced by young men like my friend Mr Ahamed. Unfortunately, most of them will still be men, and will have same cultural/ideological blind spots. I’ll not be looking for any change on that front any time soon.

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