The situation was unique when Awami League unveiled its electoral manifesto four years ago seeking people’s support ahead of the January 2014 parliamentary polls.
Two weeks before making the manifesto public, the party was close to the magic number, 151 seats, required for forming a new government. It had won 127 of the 153 uncontested seats.
And around three weeks prior to voting day, the party was certain that almost all its candidates contesting in 110 out of the remaining 147 seats would be victorious due to the absence of BNP-led alliance candidates, who had boycotted the polls.
The record shows the party was certain of winning at least two-third majority in parliament a lot before a single vote was cast. Because of this, its electoral manifesto largely lost appeal.
The party in the manifesto had given high priority to good governance, democratisation and decentralisation of powers. If it formed the government, the party promised some major reforms to bring qualitative changes in those areas.
But four years down the line, the picture looks gloomy as the promises remained largely ignored.
An almost ineffective parliament, lack of checks and balances, alarming state of human rights, alleged rise of graft in some sectors, incident of enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings, shrinking space for dissenting voices and opposition parties portray an unhealthy state of democracy and governance.
The poor state of governance overshadowed the government’s successes in some important areas, like continuation of economic growth, the trial of war criminals and controlling the sudden eruption of militancy.
To some extent the situation, as many political analysts say, became worse than that of its previous term, 2009-2013.
With this backdrop, the current government steps into its final year today and the AL is preparing its new electoral manifesto for the upcoming polls.
The AL-led government did good in tackling militancy, after the horrific attack in a Gulshan café in 2016 that left 20 hostages killed, and holding trials of war criminals, as promised in its last electoral manifesto.
But the other promises remain unfulfilled.
No significant reform was brought to strengthen the Election Commission in line with the electoral promise. Rather, most of the local government elections, including that of upazila and union parishads held after the parliamentary polls, were marred by violence and electoral irregularities, eroding people’s confidence in the electoral system.
Local government system was supposed to be made more effective through decentralisation of power. But no meaningful reform was made.
Over the last four years, rights body Ain o Salish Kendra have been saying that the overall human rights situation in the country remained alarming, largely due to incidents of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and violence against women and children.
The National Human Rights Commission still remains toothless thanks to lack of efforts to strengthen it as per the AL’s promise. A report published by The Daily Star on December 10 showed how the police ignored the NHRC.
The NHRC could not find an answer for the relatives of victims of 154 incidents of enforced disappearance, custodial torture and death, extrajudicial killing and other rights violation from 2012 to 2016. It did not get investigation reports on those incidents even after writing as many letters.
The AL’s promise to uphold the independence of the judiciary appeared to be a rhetoric following the resignation of the chief justice.
The row between the Supreme Court and the government over some issues, including the apex court verdict that scrapped the 16th constitutional amendment, had appeared as a big blow to the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.
Justice SK Sinha, who led the apex court to nullify the 16th amendment that had empowered the parliament to remove SC judges on grounds of gross misconduct and inability, finally resigned when he was abroad.
The promise to build a national consensus to uphold the democratic process and ensure unhindered development remained on paper. There was no move in the last four years to achieve that.
Thus, political stand-off between the AL and the BNP over the mode the election-time government remains a big concern ahead of the next general election.
According to the AL electoral pledge, the Anti-Corruption Commission was supposed to be strengthened to fight graft. But every year, the global corruption index published by Transparency International came up with bad news.
In the financial sector, fragile governance was exposed with the revelation of some more shocking scams.
Frequent leakage of question papers of public examinations and continuous unruly and violent behaviours by Chhatra League, the pro-AL student body, men have also become an example of poor governance, overshadowing the government’s success in distributing free textbooks every year.
The AL also did nothing about the promise to hold MPs accountable and making sure they are transparent by enacting a law. Controversial and unlawful activities by some MPs tainted the ruling party’s image.
The AL-led government did not make any move to appoint an ombudsman, a post created by the constitution for good governance.
The inability of parliament, with a handpicked main opposition, and other institutions to fulfil their mandates further destroyed checks and balances, allowing the rise of an all-powerful executive branch.
The government policymakers took credit for taking up seven mega development projects costing around $40 billion in the last nine years.
One of the most courageous moves was starting the construction of the long-cherished Padma Bridge, the largest project to be implemented with the country’s own resources.
The other six projects are: Rooppur Nuclear Power Project, Payra Sea Port, the coal-fired large power projects of Matarbari and Rampal, Metro Rail and an LNG terminal.
The projects, though progressing slowly, would have significant positive impact on the country when implemented.
In a democracy, a government and its leaders are judged by how they perform to improve overall governance by establishing rule of law, upholding human rights and ensuring accountability and transparency in their work.
If the government is to be judged that way, it does not look good at all. Things could have been different had it been able to make major reforms in line with its electoral pledges.
The AL-led government got the opportunity, as some political analysts thought four years ago, to do something good by fulfilling its promises and minimise the criticism for staying in power through the one-sided election.
Being indifferent to electoral pledges is common in our political culture and the present government could not change that.
The saying “people with good intentions make promises, but the people with good character keep them” tells us what lacks of our politicians.
Asked about the party’s last electoral manifesto, Awami League presidium member Faruk Khan told The Daily Star that the government had fulfilled most of its pledges and the rest would be done this year.
“In many cases, the government did more than promised,” he said.
“Out next manifesto will be prepared in light of the Awami League’s Vision 2041, to make the country middle income by 2021 and developed one by 2041,” he said.
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