The Financial Express
Swasti Lankabangla Swasti Lankabangla

Why nations need elections  

Why nations need elections   

The 1970 general election in the then Pakistan had, indisputably, added to the force of the demand of the country's people in the eastern wing for autonomy. Had there been no election victory then, an intractable and prolonged deadlock would have followed. All the progresses made in the street-based mass upsurges so far would also have considered to have gone in vain.

It is not clear even today what could have prompted President Yahya Khan and his cohorts to call a national election on December 7, 1970, despite the presumed intelligence reports that an overwhelming electoral victory for the East Pakistani Bengalees would invite series of troubles for Pakistan's statehood. In spite of this, the nationalist Awami League won an absolute majority in both the national and provincial assemblies in East Pakistan. It meant that the Awami League was now entitled to form the central government in Pakistan.

The electoral win greatly strengthened the political leverage of the nationalist Bengalee leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who had unwaveringly backed the idea of East Pakistan's autonomy. Now Sheikh Mujib's Awami League was handed down the task of forming the central government. Thanks to the ambitions of Sheikh Mujib's West Pakistan-based political rival Zulfiqr Ali Bhutto, the post-poll scenario soon veered off course, and took a grim turn. Bhutto's party had also won a majority in West Pakistan. All this, however, was a different chapter.

Perhaps it was by default that the West Pakistani army general-President Yahya Khan and his regime began toying with the idea of calling a general election for the first time since the creation of Pakistan. They had little inkling that the plan would go awry so miserably that it would sow the seeds of the independent state of Bangladesh. However, during the post-election roundtable talks in Dhaka over power sharing, the Bhutto-led West Pakistani politicians joined the fray to fish in troubled waters. Seemingly in a lightning speed, the post-poll politics spiralled out of control leading to the Bengalee genocide of the 25th March, 1971, in East Pakistan and the declaration of independence and the start of the Bangladesh Liberation War. The calling of election by General Yahya Khan was perhaps a well-meaning action by default. Like the West Pakistan-based military and the politicians, Yahya had been eons away from a possible scenario with the independent Bangladesh in the spotlight.

Besides, by an ironical twist of fate, the military-President Yahya finally emerged as a blood-thirsty monster to the Bengalees in East Pakistan. It is this horrific impression that got stamped on the minds of the people after the start of a genocidal rule in East Pakistan, the 'occupied Bangladesh'.

Political science theorists might become willing to give the credit for all these developments to the election of 1970. The instances of elections without maneouvring their results leading to the birth of a new nation are rare -- especially in the least developed regions. On the other hand, a handful of highly developed countries also stand out with stains of electoral irregularities. Whatever the cases may be, it is a fully participatory election which quite often changes the political scenario of a country.

Except the absolute monarchies and totalitarian states, general elections, nowadays, are held worldwide. Some of these elections might emerge as highly flawed, plagued by rampant irregularities, skewed in community contexts and ethnically biased. In spite of these drawbacks, national elections are a sine qua non in today's democracies. No matter if they are parliamentary or presidential polls, in these elections peoples choose individuals to hold public office. In short, election is a mechanism by which modern representative democracy has been operating since the 17th century. These elections are in contrast to the practice in democratic archetype in ancient Athens, where the exercise of voting was considered an oligarchic institution.

The modern electoral process has gone through a series of changes, a few of them unprecedented, over the last four centuries. In the past, the institution used to stand for changing the old guard to pick new public office holders or keeping the old ones in place like before. The journey has not been smooth. As the elections had adopted newer forms, influences of local and domestic socio-political realities kept shaping them. Thus the polls held in an ethnically bifurcated and strife-torn country in the Sub-Saharan African region and those taking place in territories with a strong democratic tradition remain different in nature. Although crass violence doesn't taint elections in civilised countries, veiled irregularities like smear campaigns vitiate the poll atmosphere in a few of them.

The need for elections is increasingly being felt in countries where the system has been absent since the founding of those states. Besides, in the countries where tradition of elections is deeply rooted, but remains tainted with flaws, campaigns for pure elections continue unabated. In many least developed countries, botched elections often lead to factional fights. A couple of central and West African countries are used to experiencing the defeated candidates not accepting the results. The sitting government remains arrogantly stuck to power, with the winning party starting a fight or forming a parallel government. But there are laudable instances like the recent national polls in East Timor. In comparison, the 2008 general election in the Maldives ended up in a mess, which later saw the President-elect Mohammed Nasheed from the main opposition party going into a 2-year self-exile. He, however, came back triumphantly in 2018 after his exile in London.

By and large, elections in the developed nations are held peacefully. Except the isolated cases of violence, the second-largest democracy in the world - India, has also long witnessed participatory general elections. Elections today are considered sacrosanct. Few in the democratic countries concerned can ever think of spoiling them. There are checks and balances inherent in true democracy. Those include the systems of impeachment, no-confidence and mid-term elections. Meanwhile, Bangladesh had to pass through a fraught period with the country being ruled by non-elected sham governments. It was the democracy movements restoring the lost institutions which drew the chapter to a close.





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