Democracy at Cross Road in Bangladesh

Dr. Sultan Ahmad

Bangladesh, a country in South Asia,  achieved her independence in 1971  through a bloody war of nine months that took lives of about 0.3 million people, displaced over 10 million and destructed hundreds and thousands of  homes and businesses,  and hundreds and thousands of women were raped by the Pakistani army with the help of miscreants under the banner of an Islamic party, Jamaat-e-Islam. Since its independence, it has been struggling for the establishment of democracy, rule of law, human rights,  the fundamental principles of the war of  independence.

Unfortunately, although the country got a constitution, but the democratic ideal was changed to a dictatorial Presidential one party system by the founder  father of the nation. After his horrific killing along with some members of his family in 1975, a freedom fighter General  took over and introduced an indemnity bill in the constitution barring the trial of those who killed the father of the nation. He  encouraged the participation of army officers in politics; and also included the members of the outlawed Islamists banned for their role for committing war crimes during the independence war, for consolidating his military rule. Bangladesh was under military rule from 1976 to 1990, then a popular mass movement ousted the military dictator in 1990.

Despite senior dedicated and experienced members in the parties; Hasina, daughter of the father of the nation took over the charge of her father’s party, who had neither the educational background nor the political experience; on the other side Khaleda, the wife of the General who was assassinated in 1981, took charge of her husband’s party with even worse background than Hsina to continue with the legacy of the two dead.  That has changed the political scenario of Bangladesh politics. One’s father had killed democracy, and another’s husband had killed human rights. Both the two ladies are at daggers dawn with each other and even they do not talk to each other nor wants to see each other’s face.  Groups of  fortune seekers – bandits,  corrupts and  terrorists assembled around the two ladies that led Bangladesh to political chaos, corruption, hooliganism, and terrorism over last 20 years. Moreover, the two sons of Khaleda were found guilty of money laundering in Singapore and USA. One of them is now in exile in UK and the other in Singapore.

After 1990, 4 elections to the national assembly were held under a neutral interim government and the two ladies ruled the country as Prime Minister alternately during this 20 year period.  All the elections were monitored by all the international observers including US certified the election as free and fair by any standard. But the lady, who lost the election and had became the leader of the opposition, categorically rejected the results of the election and in a  five year term the opposition had hardly attended the assembly sessions. This is true for the parties led by the two ladies. Bangladesh was categorized as the number one corrupt country in the world for consecutive four years, but to utter despair not a single corrupt was brought to justice.

Moreover, the two ladies had  corrupted the civil, legislative, law enforcing and all other administrative branches of the country, and politicized all the institutions. The one in power, created a cell in the ministry of home affairs to overview the cases filed for killing, corruption and hooliganism; and thus granted in the development of impunity through this cell to their party cadres evading the normal justice system of the country. They put hindrance in the development of local democratic institutions. In the last 20 years of their rule, hundreds and thousands of people were assassinated in the name of crossfire, stopping opposition agitation and by secret killing.

Bangladesh AGitations

When the time of election comes closer, the two ladies start blaming each other and create an atmosphere of uncertainty that lead to the active negotiation of friendly countries and our development partners to bring them to terms all the time without any success. The question remains, when elections were held in a free and fair way, why these friendly countries do not exert pressure on the lady who rejected the result of the election, and advise to cooperate with the winner and attend parliamentary sessions regularly and cooperate with the government in  building  the country to path of progress and stability. Unfortunately, we noticed the representatives of the friendly countries recognize and meet the leader of the opposition, whoever was in that position, knowing that she had rejected the result of a free and fair election and avoided attending the parliament and enjoying all financial and other benefits. Did they find it fair and acceptable? To me, these countries are not really interested in the development and enrichment of democracy in Bangladesh,  they want an election that bring a party in power only.

If the country do not get out of the chaotic political blame game scenario quickly, certainly time will not be too far when a mass upsurge will create serious chaotic situation that will be out of control. To get out of this chaotic situation, following suggestions are put forward to have a true democratic, rule of law and stable atmosphere:

1. As per present constitution, the Prime Minister is enjoying absolute power, even more than the President of USA enjoys.

2. A viable electoral system is to be developed on the basis of proportional representation in the parliament by the political parties on the basis of votes they earn.

3. None of the two ladies will do the needful to change the constitution for the true practice of democracy. An interim  caretaker neutral and non-political government must be formed to modify the constitution to inject balance of power between the President and the Prime Minister, develop a electoral system that will end the conflict of political parties to grab power at any cost.

Our friendly development partners can play a vital role in bringing the practice of true democracy, rule of law and stability in the country that will benefit all.

(Author was Professor at Chittagong University, a renowned Public University for 30 years and also at East West University, a leading Private University for 6 years. Now lives in USA.)

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