BNP got a pasting it didn't expect for one reason or the other. It had expected that the people were very unhappy with the AL incumbency and ready to vote them out of power. For whatever reasons including extra-electoral ones, if one goes by BNP arguments and accusations, that didn't happen. Instead, AL or Sk. Hasina is in power for the third term much to the relief of AL supporters. A sense of safety pervades the AL camp If acute disappointment is what BNP feels. The AL thinks it has the matter sewn up for the immediate future. The so-called legitimacy factor of any elections doesn't work much in Bangladesh as the past has shown.

Public indifference and EC

The public of course is seriously indifferent, a trend that keeps growing. The EC has said that 80% voted and that's an incredibly high percentage. For those in Dhaka, this will come as a surprise as such massive crowds were missing. Most had, however, taken it for granted that an AL back to power was on the cards. So obviously, the electoral management system has become very developed and can process voters rapidly.

However, the EC has somehow failed to gather the kind of public confidence it would want to. This current EC is quite talkative and made too many public pronouncements. As they contradicted each other so much and that too publicly it is difficult to understand how they could function cohesively and efficiently, which included handling such a large volume of voters.

Nevertheless, the status and prestige of the EC is not an issue anymore because public interest in elections have been declining. After 2018, it seems to have caused even less of a ripple. It is interesting because as per the EC, it is the people that has created the scenario. The best indicator of public interest- social media- has not been chatting on it- even after the digital gag was withdrawn.

AL and BNP: Future tense?

But on the political front the scene is now going to be about what does the next five years going to look like. Obviously, BNP is going to be in the ring and depending on how necessary AL thinks, it will pummel the opponent. AL leaders are openly talking of "ending BNP and JI politics" whatever that means. Khaleda Zia will be in jail, efforts to bring Tariq Zia back will increase and more cases are expected to be filed. How BNP will face that is not known yet.

Within the party, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has emerged as a leader with the old guard almost all wiped out. That Tariq Zia runs the show is obvious but as his chances of returning as long as AL is here is nil; some kind of alternative leadership is certain to develop, even if it looks like a sub-post office. Much will depend if BNP chooses confrontation or strategic opposition. The fiction that BNP believes in is that people want electoral democracy so bad that they will take to the streets. There is no evidence to back this claim and we may well be seeing the beginning of the end of participatory election-based politics with few tears shed.

If the EC is right, then the people have so overwhelmingly voted for the AL, other parties just may not be needed. That does seem like a verdict for no-opposition party parliamentary politics.

Party or the people?

But as the 2018 elections have also shown, two factors remain critical. One is the absolute power and capacity of Sk. Hasina to manage and lead the party and the government and the other is the broad-based alliance between the various segments of the governing class. Sk. Hasina clearly has loyalty of all the sections. The way ex-officers -- civil and military - joined her party means that there are many in the ranks who are ready to become partisan after retirement. That is a major positive for the AL and shows an emergence of politico- administration based alliance.

However, it also shows that the party is very dependent on Sk. Hasina for its own survival and growth. This electoral victory was largely fashioned by the PM and the party chief in her dual capacity and speaks of how successful she is. But it also shows dependence on one person and that is what may make AL vulnerable when her retirement time comes.

It is also going to be a sea change as the party-based politics common till now already shows declining and the issue-based social protests are gaining power. The quota movement which rattled a major cornerstone of the AL's constituency and the even more successful road safety movement were non-partisan. And that will require a new set of politics and politicians to handle the situation. It's a challenge Al has not faced seriously before and so the noise is not going to come from BNP's not so sure ranks but the anonymous streets which gain strength with every exam that is passed from the primary onwards.

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