Main Menu

democracy and us

justice and people

my rights, my life




Why are we still continuing with a 'viceregal' political system? - Rounaq Jahan

Eroding democratic values and Constitution - Dr. M Zahir

Democracy: An unfinished agenda - Dr Kamal Hossain

A case for proportional representation - Rashed Khan Menon

Is majority rule same as democratic rule? - Kazi Anwarul Masud

Responsibilities of majority rule - Muhammad Zamir

The issue is democratic culture - Emajuddin Ahamed

Leaders and politicians - Mohammad Badrul Ahsan

Black money in electioneering - Inam Ahmed

Party nomination on sale - Rezaul Karim

The tale of limping parliament - Reaz Ahmed

Politicians hindering progress - AH Jaffor Ullah

Whither parliamentary standing committees - Shakhawat Liton

Politicians must take blame for failures - Syed Ashfaqul Haque


Antagonism takes precedence over understanding Shakhawat Liton

Thirteen years of democratic experience: Strengths and weaknesses Reaz Ahmad

Distorted political culture Shameem Mahmud

Party constitutions: Rarely followed Rezaul Karim



Thirteen years of democratic experience

Strengths and weaknesses

Reaz Ahmad

Bangladesh emerged as an independent country in 1971 with its political leadership promising the people to adhere to the path of democracy and work for economic emancipation of the downtrodden. Over three decades down the line, the country is still going through serious socio-political instability and it badly lacks a sense of direction.

Set aside the teething period that any new nation requires for consolidating the sovereignty, our country lost best part its first 20 years of existence to military rules with its people and politicos employing most of their energies in struggle for democracy restoration finding little time left for nation building in true sense.

So fall of the last military dictator in late 1990, in fact, ushered in a new era of hopes and aspirations among the democracy-loving people who had long been longing for real changes changes for the good, changes for advancement.

Since we began practising uninterrupted parliamentary democracy from 1991, our politicians got the opportunity to have exposures to democratic norms and cultures. This exposure was refreshing and long overdue for a brand of politicians, who had long been over-exposed to movements and agitation thanks to the colonial legacy.

If one recalls the anti-Ershad movement days, our political parties opposed to the military regime were unable to consolidate their unity strong enough to dislodge the dictator until late 1990, when a student-led uprising succeeded in ousting the nearly a decade-old tyranny.

But unfortunately, our positive strides towards holding free and fair polls in regulation time and switching back to parliamentary form of democracy from a presidential system did give no sense of direction to that younger generation who braved their lives for restoring democracy.

Much to the discredit of our politicians, that even in the changed democratic political environment, the student fronts continued to work as their lackeys. In the process, the student movement subsequently deteriorated as we watch in frustration a new generation is getting themselves addicted in drugs, vandalising in the streets, destroying public property, and even killing each other for pseudo-political interests.

Over the last 13 years, we have had four parliamentary polls of which three got certificates of fairness from independent poll observers as those were held under caretaker government system while the other one held in February, 1996 under political government in power, was boycotted by all mainstream political parties excepting the then ruling BNP and that elections, giving birth to a short-lived parliament, basically served the purpose of amending the Constitution to accommodate caretaker system thereafter.

It was to the credit of the politically-conscious voters of Bangladesh that each time they tried to alter the ruling parties giving the political parties a fair chance to get a spirit of competition in outshining each other by gifting the country with better governance. But much to the discredit of the mainstream political parties that during this democratic process of power rotation, they employed more of their energies on harassing the political opponents than improving upon their respective records of governance-quality./
Installation of non-party caretaker government during election time is an expression of losing confidence in the ability of political governments in holding fair polls. But again the holding of polls under caretaker administration could not fully satisfy the losing parties as both Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Awami League brought allegations of poll unfairness at one time or the other.

Our political parties' attitude of 'winner-takes-all' is eating up the basic democratic spirit. Experience of the elections since 1991 show that when one particular party or alliance gets peoples' mandate to run the country they take every other thing for granted and in a similar way, the poll losers consider themselves completely left out.

Repeated parliament boycotts by the opposition in 5th, 7th and current 8th sessions is a clear manifestation of this mindset. Political and ideological bankruptcy reached to such a height that opposition gets impatient when the party-in-power could hardly make halfway through to its five-year tenure. Then come the series of so-called anti-government programmes like strikes, sieges and rail-road blockades to unseat a government much ahead of completion of its term in power. Politicians remain oblivious of the high costs the nation has to bear in terms of lost businesses owing to political strife and strikes.

Frustration creep up in public mind as politicians have, largely, failed to reap the fruits of democracy for the greater causes of the nation building, rather, highly confrontational nature of domestic politics and lack of democratic practices within the political parties have turned the country's parliament ineffective, and also indifferent to genuine public concerns.
It was during these 13 odd years of democratic practice that Bangladesh had the misfortune of topping the Transparency International-rated most corrupt countries of the world for three consecutive times. Many feel that entry of neo-riche, blackmoney holders and a new brand of armed cadres in the mainstream politics and exclusion of thousands of small farmers and small businessmen, the millions of micro-credit borrowers, and the poor from the political arena has got something to do with the growing phenomenon of all-pervasive corruption and musclemenship in the society.

Lack of communications and dialogues between two major political parties of the country BNP and AL, who were together in their fight against military dictatorship, appears archaic in 21st century's democratic practices across the globe. There should be no point for Begum Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina to remain incommunicado given the reality that these two leaders have served and are still serving a country of over 140 million people in top-most capacities.

Now comes high time to put aside the political rhetoric that people became so fade up with. People expect our leaders to work together for economic emancipation of the country, sit together in the parliament shaping up nation's future, and stop political harassment of the opponents.

Our private sector, social entities and citizens in individual capacities want to thrive and the minimum they demand from the politicians is creation of a conducive atmosphere free from gun-running cadre-politics, strikes and corruption so that Bangladesh prospers as a country.
The author is a senior political reporter of The Daily Star

Copyright 2004 The Daily Star. All Rights Reserved.