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The defining picture of this current stage of the pro-democratic movement being waged by BNP and like-minded parties was seen on November 1, 2023. The old adage goes, “history repeats itself, first as a tragedy, then a farce”, but for the current Election Commission (EC) led by CEC Habibul Awal, farce is the starting point. In a bid to do Hasina’s bidding and move forward to a one-sided election, the EC sent out invites to all political parties for dialogues. The EC’s courier duly arrived at the BNP office, then empty of all its personnel due to the police crackdown and cordoned off with crime scene tape. Not finding anyone to leave the letter with, the herald reached through the collapsible gates, left the letter on a chair, and departed.

The aborted circuit of this letter, sitting in forlorn desolation with no recipients, is the defining symbol of current-day Bangladesh. Just like the letter, the politics of our republic itself, as long as it was a democracy, was set up as a mode of communication between the government and the people. The government would perform for five years, serve up its accomplishments to the electorate, and the electorate would deliver its verdict. But since the last acceptable election in 2008, one party has been missing from this arrangement. The government still performs and holds an election every five years, but then people know that they are no longer needed. The government can, in effect, elect itself.

The recipient-less letter is the epitome of the type of election Prime Minister Hasina would like to see in 2024. If she could, no doubt, she would run a 2014 type election, but have all 300 MPs elected unopposed. After all, she has already delivered an imperious message to her own party, in a tone more fitting of a colonial viceroy delivering a message than a party chief speaking to her supporters, that the party must elect any nominee she chooses, even if the person is blind or lame.

Yet, not all is quiet on the Western Front. The rumblings of discontent are getting louder and louder from Bangladesh’s Western development partners. Every single mention of Bangladesh from diplomatic missions has contained mention of participatory elections – code word for BNP. We are of the impression that unlike the Election Commission, these countries, led by the United States, are not in the habit of sending messages that sit undelivered.

A change is coming. The facade by Sheikh Hasina, pushed to its logical conclusion, is one that is out of time and place for the realities of the current-day Bangladesh. With BNP’s blockade movement roaring on, Hasina would do well to ensure that the people of Bangladesh can return to their rightful place of deciding the next government. Otherwise, it may be her who will soon be writing letters with no recipients.