In this season of kal boishakhi and thunderstorms clouds are gathering over the country's economy and politics.
A surge of imports in the sunset months of the outgoing fiscal 2021-22, much higher than the growing exports, has put an extra pressure on the economy and forced the Bangladesh currency to slide against the US dollars. The current account deficit has started widening as the country is spending more on imports than the earning in export of goods and services. Economists, researchers and even some government agencies are advising the government to tighten the belt. The finance minister seems to be heeding. He has recently hinted at banning the import of luxury items like cars and electronic goods. Quoting the prime minister AHM Mustafa Kamal has also informed the nation the government is cutting down on the expenditure for foreign trips by government officials and employees. The tours which are essential for the national development programmes can be allowed as the finance minister warned of making some hard decisions should the Russia's war against Ukraine continues. Amid suggestions by economists and experts in the relevant fields that it's time to look at the country's debt servicing though the debt GDP ratio is still in the green zone and far below the danger mark.
With the economy showing signs of some strains in certain sectors, the politics has started heating up. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is galvanising her Awami League party to speed up its preparation to face the election challenge, if it becomes a challenge at all. In the recent meeting of the party's Central Working Committee, the top policy-and-decision-making body, ample hints have been dropped that ruling party is sincere and serious about bringing all opposition parties, notably the main opposition BNP, in the election fray which is just months away. The vote should be held either end this year or early next year. According to some media reports the Awami League may even propose polls talks with the BNP and other opposition parties. But an unfazed BNP has remained as dogged as before in boycotting the next general election should it is held under the ruling party. The party has even vowed not to take part in any pre-election dialogue with the Awami League-led government. Political watchers find BNP leaders stepping up their battle of words with the AL leaders like Obaidul Quader and others taking a defensive posture. Quader's daily media briefings are nothing but a monotonous rebuff of what his BNP counterpart Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir says in sweeping anti-government remarks most of the time. What is however noticeable is the high-pitched BNP voice in trying to coroner the government on every issue that comes by.
In this political déjà vu the mass people who, according to the constitution, holds the fate of the political parties by way of choosing the next set of people and the party/parties to govern them. They, however, keep wondering if they will be allowed to fully make their choice and cast the ballots in a genuinely free and fair atmosphere without being intimidated. The new Election Commission, under the stewardship of Kazi Habibul Awal and his four other commissioners, is promising to be brave and honest to make the next national polls largely flawless and acceptable to all at home. And abroad too. Like the past the country's development partners are making enough noises to see that Bangladesh this time makes the election inclusive and rigging-free. There are a number of issues though to be resolved by the national election watchdog. Well, the CEC is right to some extent in his contention that he can't do much in persuading unwilling political party or parties to join the balloting. But sure he can and has to develop an environment in which all the political parties feel they get a fair deal. The CEC may begin with the controversial issue of using Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) in the next voting. He had by now heard enough from different stake holders and a cross section of the society about the vice and virtues of using the EVM even though the EC is still unprepared to cover all the 300 parliamentary seats with the machines it has in hands now. Kazi Habibul's predecessor Nurul Huda, who departed with a questionable record, was hell bent on purchasing the EVMs despite objections not only from opposition parties but from well-meaning polls experts. Sure, India, the world's largest democracy, has gone for EVM in spite of opposition from some parties, including the Congress. Yet India is a different story as it has many other strong features such as a strong and comparatively independent election commission to keep the political parties satisfied with the election process and the outcome. It's not so in Bangladesh and rarely has been. In its 50 years of independence Bangladesh had had only a few national voting that was certified as free and fair even by international polls watchers.
The new CEC is keeping this situation in mind. With the ruling party Awami League nodding the use of EVM in the next national voting has sparked an immediate rebuff by BNP which finds it as another ploy of the ruling party to electronically rig the ballots. The CEC, however, quickly took to the media to try to clarify the use or not use of EVM is entirely the function of the commission. It will decide what to do. It's just the beginning. Political developments, along with the economic situation, are just unfolding. The days ahead can be stormy on both counts.
This reminds us about the "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats and the first three lines of his remarkable poem:
"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;"
We trust that our falcon is minding the falconer and determined to act before the things fall apart.
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