There are some inevitable questions, taken as proof for democracy, are yet to be answered in the context of Bangladesh. Like what is it happening in the political arena in the name of democracy? Is it all about just the practice of universal suffrage? Where democracy, a rule of the people by the people for the people, always concerns whether people get Political Goods- those rights citizens legally pursue to get? Bangladesh experienced several marshal regimes and had to restart democracy in its forwarding pathway, still the circumstances do not favor rather the evil changes its forms stubbornly in the ‘dictatorial’ type of democracy that we are seeing presently. However, it is very conspicuous that western liberal type of democracy does not function properly in Bangladeshi context and the causes behind the hurdles to democracy have been evaluated in the write-up.
Party-Political Domain: Political Parties, more or less in every state, play a crucial role in democracy and in making history of a nation for its own sake. Anti-colonial movements against British and anti-discrimination movement against Pakistan are the glorious history of political parties in the region, specifically the organized role in the struggle against the post-independence military regimes are all those show the legacies of the political parties in Bangladesh. But in recent cases, the hatreds among the political parties loosing democracy, (Rounaq Jahan, 2003:223-29), even the political leaders are unwilling to recognize how their actions are threatening the fabric of democracy. The failure of the TWO political parties to negotiate their differences threatens the future of the democracy in Bangladesh and non-state actors can rise as a vacuum can be created if the violent scenarios go on. Instabilities within the parties, quick fragmentation and frequently changing loyalties create one-man based parties devoid of democratic norms which ultimately impedes the growth of proper democratic culture.
Money and Muscle Politics: In recent decades, politicians are banished from politics and the vacancy is being replaced by the non-politician corporatists. What they actually do is the politics of money making and muscle to secure their business. So getting nomination to run the voting campaigns, they pump huge amount of money just to purchase the so-called voters and get a license with political impunity. The voters who got the little money have certainly sacrificed their right to develop either themselves or their community within the 5-yearly term and those elected representatives manipulate their spent money in the period. Consequently, this practice narrows the scope for the real politicians to repatriate and inspires the businessmen to make money through the political connections. In the existing political culture, the parties have to compromise with the motives of donors that is why the parties are composed of Politicians, businessmen, bureaucrats, retired military personnel.
Anyhow, along with the money, political parties use the violent methods in forms of politicized and party recruited law enforcing forces, party cadres, gangsters and hooligans damaging public property rampantly just to suppress the opposition. Also, use of terror against the religious and ethnic minorities is very endemic during the election. There are marginal differences between the civil-military regimes in the form that military uses guns, tanks and democratic parties use strike, blockade, vandalism, hartals etc in the name of democratic rights or the protest against the injustice of the ruling counterparts.
Endemic Hartals: One of the most powerful and damaging tools, used by the political parties, in Bangladeshi politics is Hartal/strike. Hartal reduces the industrial production as those have been stuck in the stalemate. Mainly Hartal affects the urban unskilled and semi-skilled labourers and daily wage-earners thoroughly. Educational activities experience session-jam and other unexpected academic delay. However, the reality is that major political parties persist in Hartals as an important tool in both supporting and opposing Hartal, disrespecting the will of the people. They dispatch Hartal when they run the government and readily practice it as opposition in the name of constitutional rights.
Absence of democracy within the party is also starkly visible as there are no provisions for election in the central and local level of the parties. Some sort of dynastic system is prevailing at the highest level of the parties. With the passage of time, such peculiar system has developed that nobody even dares to access the top post of the parties.
Instead of fair democratic competition, family status, influence and connections with the higher authority of the parties have become crucial in holding a position within the parties. So in many cases, grass-root level politicians have often been cornered by the new comers. As a consequence, retired civil-military personnel, business elites turned themselves into politicians and mafias. What they do is just for the sake of corporatism, never for the democracy and even for the parties as well.
Absence of enlightened political class is largely caused by the lack of modern education of the candidates. But unfortunately a certain number of political representatives are poorly educated and have settled in the politics through lobbying with the centre. Basic structure (economy), social equity, culture of tolerance are some preconditions for liberal style of democracy. The Bangladeshi political system lacks such an enlightened political class with necessary knowledge in ruling and accommodating political oppositions.
Patron-clientilism: The political parties develop a hierarchy of leaders and cadres from top to bottom. The relationship bases on kinship. Battling for the leadership, wining in the election at any cost and realizing personal goals have become priorities instead of dedication for the people or promoting democracy.
Finally, as a soft democracy, Bangladesh is growing to institutionalize democratic norms and values. But the greed and grievances equally spoils the background where it rests on. Since the independence in 1971, there appears a serious lack in nation-building that affects it to a great extent and some issues are yet to be resolved like punishing war crimes and state-ideologies. Until these issues are answered, the democratization would never be flourished and the wheel of development will go slow day by day.
*The writer is a Research Assistant at Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies (BIPSS) and a undergrad student of the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at University of Dhaka
Email: [email protected]
BDST: 2005 HRS, DEC 16, 2013
Edited By: Shameem Reza, Newsroom Editor