THE move to establish an institutional mechanism comprising representatives of the government and the opposition to discuss and arrive at a consensus on the election-related issues is a welcome development. The chief whip has reportedly conveyed a proposal to his counterpart representing the opposition for a discussion on how to set up a committee to take up for discussion all the proposals made by the opposition about a month ago for holding free and fair national elections early next year. Earlier, the Prime Minister had proposed the formation of a committee comprising members of the two sides to examine and consider the opposition proposals with a view to bridging differences and arriving at consensus decisions that could be latter approved in parliament. But there has yet been no response to the proposal for forming such a committee. Meanwhile, charges and counter charges are being exchanged between the two sides without any sincere action taken to start a dialogue process by forming the committee. But now, in a refreshing departure from such accusations, both sides ought to adopt a constructive course and contact each other to form the needed committee for a successful dialogue.
The importance of dialogue and remaining very earnest and steady in the path of it should be obvious to all concerned. The starting of a dialogue process will likely lead to a dissipation of the growing confrontational passion of the two sides and spare the country and the economy from the likely adverse consequences of a political upheaval. The avoidance of a crisis situation and reaching a level headed negotiated settlement on the election issues are central to achieving political and hence economic stability of the country in both short and long runs and nothing other than it is more eagerly desired by Bangladeshis at large. Both the opposition and the government will earn people's respect by giving up their instinctive reactive guts and the impulsive tendency to subdue dissent by brute force. They need to engage in dialogue truly sincerely from now on because it is not early but rather late for doing so to ensure that elections can be held peacefully to establish the cherished political normalcy in the country.
In the coming days, extreme care needs to be taken by the two sides to quickly take steps, mutually and cordially, not only to set up a committee but also to finalise actions to bring about the needed election-related reforms. It is important to note here that even the nature of the committee to be formed needs a prior discussion first -- whether it would be a parliamentary one composed entirely of MPs of the ruling party and the opposition or whether it would be a broad-based one, comprising also party stalwarts of the opposing political alliances to make it more representative in character to bind all potential objectors to the agreements to be arrived at by the committee. It will be completely unwise to waste time to form the committee -- whatever may be its agreed form -- and set the ball rolling at the soonest for sincere discussions on the opposition's proposals and the government's or the ruling party's reactions and suggestions in response to them.
Meanwhile, the leading lights of the two sides ought not to make any remarks that may vitiate the atmosphere before the talks are formally launched. This caution on both sides would be extremely important for a happy outcome of the talks. Any unilateral election-related suggestion made now, before the talks have started, will only add to the incentive for the opposition to spurn the talks out of a feeling that the other side is not sincere and have a secret agenda and the resolve to enforce it. Such a development may scuttle even the move towards a dialogue.