As the 11th national election is fast drawing nearer, one thing that seems rather unusual is the lack of discussion on the manifestos of the contesting political parties. Ideally such deliberations should have been at the centre of public attention. More than anything, it is the economic agenda that should be the main focus for the parties to spell out their plans in steering the country's future course, if elected. On the other hand, it is obvious for the voters to apply their judgment whether to hold onto a particular party or not, based on its agenda. No doubt, it has not been the case in the past, and unfortunately, it is not going to happen this time too.
The stark fact that manifestos are not the key deciding factors in national polls in this country explains a good deal about the ill-practised political culture - bred mostly by illiteracy, ignorance and blind partisanship. Indeed, much of this has been let loose by none other than the political parties which find it convenient to release their manifestos just prior to the elections -- that too not in precise terms, let alone in clear, targeted economic terms. Thus the flat, dreary promises to curb corruption, remove poverty and illiteracy and so on do not strike the right chord and often get lost in smoky oratory. Coming to the national election knocking on the door, it is highly pertinent to ask how many members of the educated civil society of the country are aware of macro-economic pledges made by the major parties -- the major two to be precise? This also brings to question the practicality, if not legitimacy, of democratic norms and values essentially required for electing a party to power. It has been learnt that the party in power, Awami League finalised its draft manifesto only the other day, the last week of November. As for the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, there is still no hint as to when they are going to finalise and announce their manifesto.
Understandably, political parties in the country do not assign much value to election manifesto. So, when these are announced, mostly weeks before elections, there is hardly any message to draw from -- to characterise one party with some essential traits or even tell one from another. A notable think-tank of the country recently pointed out this gross lacuna in the country's electoral politics and urged upon the political parties to work on firming up their positions in the election manifestos with emphasis on economic aspects at the macro level.
There is no arguing about the crucial role of election manifestos in a country like Bangladesh set to embark on the development path against many odds. In fact, a political party aspiring to run the country must be in a position well ahead of elections to clearly outline its plans and strategies as well as identify problems and ways to overcome those. This indeed calls for a methodical study on the macro-economy and in-depth understanding of the factors and dynamics at play. A manifesto of a political party thus needs to be proactive too. The question is whether the political parties contesting the upcoming polls have done such homework.
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