G. M. Quader


Despite a noble preamble to the Constitution, Bangladesh continues to slide into autocratic sectarian rule due to a continuous downslide of values in our political culture and a gap  between political parties and the people.



SINCE independence, the people of Bangladesh had always held the aspiration of practicing democracy. The Constitution of Bangladesh says in the preamble: “Further pledging that it shall be the fundamental aim of the state to realize the democratic process, a socialistic society, free from exploitation – a society in which the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedom, equality and justice, political, economic and social, will be secured for all citizens.” The aim had been to achieve an ideal society fulfilling all the elements of social justice through practice of democracy.


The country started with parliamentary or ministerial form, changed to presidential form, to one party rule, to extra-constitutional rule through proclamation of martial law, to multi-party presidential form again, to extra-constitutional rule through proclamation of martial law again, and finally to parliamentary or ministerial form.


The latest was parliamentary form, which continued from 1991 till October 28, 2006. During this time four general elections were held, forming four parliaments — the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth parliaments. Out of these, the sixth parliament was formed as a result of election on February 15, 1996, under the government of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).  Almost all the political parties including the major ones boycotted this election.


There were allegations of widespread rigging, and the election results were perceived at home and abroad as totally manipulated. Under the mounting pressure, as a result of people’s movement, the said parliament had to be dissolved within eleven days of its inception. The other three parliaments completed their full term of five years each.


The eighth parliament was dissolved on October 28, 2006, after completion of its tenure of five years. National election for the 9th Parliament was scheduled for January 22, 2007, to be conducted under a caretaker government (CTG) formed for that purpose. But, before the election date, it became obvious to all that the BNP-led four parties alliance in power had set the stage for a manipulated election to come back to power through fraudulent practice.


Nationwide protest continued under the leadership of the combined opposition parties (all parties other than parties in the ruling alliance in 8th Parliament), with widespread violence for stoppage of that election.


Ultimately, the armed forces had to intervene, and that election had to be postponed, on January 11, 2007. A fresh CTG was sworn in to arrange conducting of a free and fair election for the 9th Parliament and handing over power to the elected government. The reconstituted Election Commission (EC) of the new CTG declared a road map covering a period of about two years for holding of the national election. As per the same, the election is to be completed within December 2008.


The practice of democracy, which continued uninterrupted from 1991 to October 2006, could not be sustained. Under the new arrangement, an unelected CTG would govern the country till the next government could be elected.


The question is, why, and under what circumstances, did democracy fail? Judging from different political activities during the period from 1991 till postponement of election for the 9th parliament on January 11, 2007, it became obvious that there had been a continuous downslide of values in our political culture.


An ever-increasing gap was created between political parties and the people. Political parties, instead of becoming the people’s property, became the property of an individual or a group of individuals. The parties, instead of working for the people, were devoted more towards personal and group interest, even in most cases at the cost of public interest.


In a way, it might have been termed as corporate culture in politics. Political parties took on the hue of a business enterprise, with ownership of a person or a group of persons. Offspring or family members could inherit the ownership of the party. The situation in some political parties was such that the ownership could be sold. Different positions, including policy-making positions, of a party could also be purchased.


Like a business house, the party used to be run by the party chief as chief executive, with the rank and file as employees. The aim of politics became financial profit. Winning an election by hook or by crook to go to power and earn money through corruption and by abusing official authority became the natural consequence of the said corporate political culture.


Power oriented politics led political parties to a rush for grabbing state power, where the interest of the people and future of the nation bore no consequence at all. All mechanisms for manipulation of election results by use of money, muscle, official authority, bribe, politicization of administration etc., became part of the game of politics. The other consequence was refusal to accept defeat in the election because of irregularity, as that was more or less there in almost all cases.


One of the prime causes for existence of corporate political culture in our political system is the election and, to be precise, the way it is conducted in Bangladesh. There are sufficient election laws, regulations, codes of conduct etc. for conduct of a free and fair election. But, unfortunately, in reality, there are no effective means for implementation of those laws. There exists enough scope to influence election results with use of money and muscle power.


The majority of the population is poor and still illiterate. Moreover, there are lapses in providing security to the lives and property of common people. This added to inefficiency, corruption, and partisan attitude of the conducting officials made it possible for people with big money and muscle power to snatch the result in their favor by influencing through fear and favor.


If a person having muscle power could earn enough money using the same, he could become a potential candidate with high prospect of success. So could corrupt businessmen and corrupt bureaucrats with sufficient money. Violent and corrupt criminals became the target for recruitment by the political parties, as they were good at wining elections.


When they were recruited in a party in key positions, they took control of the party in time. It was they who inducted corporate political culture in parties, with an aim to gain financial profit. Ascending to power is, for them, creation of scope to achieve that goal. These people never had any scruples, so they did not see reason not to use illegal or unethical means to win election for going to power. They also see no reason not to abuse state power, once acquired, to earn personal profit through corruption and irregularities.


This new breed of so-called politicians may be good in winning elections, but lack background and education to perform as good parliamentarians. They could never be expected to perform in government positions to serve the people properly with honesty and dedication.


So, the dilemma of our democracy at the moment is that the person who manages to be elected to parliament is not fit to perform in parliament or in government. On the other hand, a person who is capable of becoming a good parliamentarian and could serve the government efficiently is not good at wining elections. To have sustainable practice of democracy associated with good governance a solution must be found to break the deadlock created by the said dilemma.


The Election Commission should be strengthened. The EC has to ensure that the election is free from the influence of fear and favor, and is conducted as fairly as possible.


Reforms are to be carried out in political parties so that those are not owned and guided by political businessmen (who trade with politics) of corporate culture. Instead, parties should belong to the people; the members are to run the party democratically. The objective of the party should not be going to power at any cost to reap benefits. The priority should be to serve the interest of the people, whether in power or out of it.


Proportionate representation of political parties in parliament, as per the proportion of total number of votes cast in their favor, may be considered as an alternate to the existing constituency based election. Political parties would declare list of candidates for election in order of preference.


People would have scope to vote for the party on the basis of quality of the people in the list. As per the proportion of votes received, the party would get proportional number of seats in the parliament. These seats would then be filled up serially out of the declared list of candidates. (G.M. Quader is a former Member of Parliament. Source, The Daily Star, January 10, 2008, circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire, January 9-10, 2008) 

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