WHAT the prime minister said in her address to the imams last week should be the wisdom of all wisdoms. She said she didn’t feel like aspiring for the prime minister’s job anymore because the sufferings of people had become unbearable. She was obviously referring to violence imprecated by strings of shutdowns called by the opposition. The senseless deaths and devastation must have also reminded the prime minister of times when her own party had resorted to such violence to topple the opponent.
If we give the prime minister the benefit of the doubt, this time she was probably talking from her heart. Politicians in the last analysis are human beings and at some point pricking conscience is bound to keep them awake. But does that mean the prime minister is going to relinquish her post or give up the campaign for re-election? The answer is a resounding no. First thing about politicians is they don’t put their money where their mouth is.
It’s perhaps the nature of this profession that politics remains a split screen for the mind. Idealism and mischief go hand in hand in it, an enchanted forest inhabited by monsters, witches and fairies where magic and danger lurk in every step. People know politicians lie and cheat, yet they can’t resist the spell of these men. There’s something about the personality and diction of politicians that produce a deadly concoction, fumes of which send people into a trance.
Advanced societies have rules in place that control the players by controlling the game. Ours is an exception to that rule because the players who control the game also control the rules. Historically, politics in Bangladesh has been based on personality cult. One person symbolises national aspirations, followers swirling in the gravitational pull of their leader like iron particles trapped inside a magnetic field.
In our case this magnetic field is inherited. Dynastic politics has the irony of the Seljuk satirical Sufi Nasreddin Hodja, who served the soup of the soup of a rabbit to the friend of the friend of the man who had brought him that rabbit. When leadership goes from progenitor to progeny or from spouse to spouse, there is an element of dilution to it.
If our politicsis increasingly succumbing to arrogance and showdowns, it’s because that dilution started many years ago. The successor to the highest profession is picked on the basis of the lowest common denominator. The acceptability of the new leadership is determined by blood connection, not by experience, knowledge, character or political vision.
That must change if we mean business. If we must heal the ills of politics, we must begin with the choice of leaders. Since dynastic politics is the name of the game, the least we can do is set an age limit for the politicians. It can be one family member after another but no single member forever. Every other profession has a retirement age, and there is no reason why politics can’t have one too. It may not entirely prevent the disaster, but will significantly control its damage.
Now, at what age should the politicians retire? When do the politicians cross the functional limit of their productive age? Ideally, the older a person gets, the more experience and knowledge he or she is supposed to accumulate. Older age improves the decision-making ability in a person. People are also expected to become more inclined to give to others as they approach what French scholar François Rabelais termed as the “Great Perhaps,” meaning death.
Most professionals around the world retire between 60 and 65, some stretching up to 67. But politicians should retire earlier for the same reason organic food has a shorter shelf life. This type of food doesn’t have preservatives, which is why it spoils faster.
If we do not want to have politicians with preservatives their stay in power should be shorter. The lies that politicians tell us, the mischief they do, the machinations, compromises, and chicaneries that are their second nature are byproducts of an undying ambition to return to power in perpetual motion. Our political weather is conducive to decay, all the more reason why leaders should be removed before they go from bad to worse.
We have talked about term limit for the politicians. We have talked about ending family-dominated politics. But retirement is the most effective of all. Some leaders might feel squeezed to plunder the economy faster than fire consumes oxygen. But it might also act as its own deterrent. Knowing how much time they have, politicians might refrain from excesses.
Since politicians never get tired, they must get retired. In our context it’s better than setting the two-term limit, which can give politicians a wide spread between first and second. Retirement leaves no choice but to plan for succession.
The writer is Editor, First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.