For democracy to deliver its fruits
Fifty years have passed and Bangladesh today has come a long way down the road of nationhood. It can no longer claim to be a country which is in swaddling clothes and, therefore, should be excused for its inexperience. From their accumulated experience since the country was born, till today, the opinion voiced by countrymen may be varied but on one point they seem to converge which is that the ruling system must deliver to them.
Bangladesh is a developing country and material progress of the greatest number of people is the supreme mass expectation. But politics and economics go hand in hand, the two are inseparable. With politics remaining rotten, directionless and self serving, the economy cannot flourish as good politics everywhere is the driving force behind a good economy. Bangladesh’s economic potential remains hardly tapped and for this its confrontational, self seeking and nihilistic political process deserves the full blame.
Another national election is gradually becoming due. The immediate concern of countrymen is the holding of this election which seems to be hanging in uncertainty. The worry is that the inability to hold the election will plunge the country into worse troubles in all respects that would particularly disrupt and weaken its economy. But even if a patchwork understanding is achieved that makes it possible to hold the elections and to transfer power within a reasonable state of peace to the elected government, still that development would not mean any great advance for this nation when it requires sweeping changes in its political culture and systems based on all round consensuses to get the full benefits of democracy and good governance.
The two major political parties are now engaged in sorting out their bitter differences over holding the elections under the guardianship of a reasonably neutral administration. If they succeed in this, the nation will get a temporary breather perhaps. For some months the country’s attention will be diverted and remain absorbed in the electioneering process. Afterwards, power would be handed over to the ones who get elected. But with this happening, will the factors that have been always plaguing the political process in Bangladesh such as its dysfunctional parliament, street battles between rival political elements, never ending political confrontation contributing to the debilitation of its economy and all other ills, simply disappear ? In sum, the moot question is: will the country be blessed by along period of political stability vitally in support of the economy, after the staging of the coming election ?
The answer — stated reasonably and from the basis of experience –is likely to be a negative one . The life of the present tenth parliament of the country is gradually coming to an end . But from the sixth parliament to the present one, the entire period of the three parliaments was marked by extraordinarily long abstention from parliament by the main opposition political parties. Thus, parliament which is at the heart of a democratic process, could not quite develop as an institution. Parliament should ideally be the place for containing the political heat, for exchange of ideas, for the practice of democratic tolerance between political groups having otherwise divergent political beliefs and attitudes, for the passing of progressive and truly useful legislation in some cases by the ruling party and the opposition working together and for gradually consolidating many other features of a genuinely democratic polity.
A parliament that has been structurally enabled to make the government of the day really accountable for its actions or lack of actions makes a very major input towards the good governance of a country. But parliaments in the context of Bangladesh have not been playing this role . In the absence of accountability, governments were under no compulsion to account for their wrong doings or lapses or felt any urge to rectify themselves. One after another non accountable and hence underperforming and tyrannical governments contributed to the building up of public grievances and supplied the raison d’etre for mobilizing street battles and other disruptive activities by opposition political parties to the detriment of economic activities.
Thus, success in maturing a healthy ‘parliamentary’ political process attains for a country in great measure the crucial political stability needed for its rapid economic progress. The attainment of a truly functioning parliamentary democracy from these perspectives, therefore, ought to be also aimed for by the main political process if they really intend to discharge their duties sincerely to the country from now on.
Only having dialogue to reach a transient electoral understanding will not solve the problems of political instability and bad governance for Bangladesh. While the current dialogue to end the political stand-off is a must, it must not be a one shot affair. The dialogue should continue to forge consensuses on other major issues in the political landscape. Only then, countrymen will have something positive to hope for in the future.
The continuing dialogue should aim to sincerely create consensuses among the political parties about the following : to declare that they would give up for good the calling of hartal as part of their political strategy or tactic, commit themselves never to stay away from parliament for unusually long periods, stop politicizing the administration or staffing their loyalists in the government administration on going to power, to assuredly work for the fastest separation or independence of the judiciary from the executive, to give an undertaking not to do anything repugnant to fundamental civil and political rights and liberties of people and to make a vow to activate fully and comprehensively the existing anticorruption mechanisms against corruption. It would be extremely important for the political parties to recognize the depth of the public feeling against corruption and to undertake real commitments and not namesake ones for the eradication of corruption.
The political parties will also need to demonstrate real progress in democratizing their own selves. This process will have to include changing the constitutions of the parties to facilitate upward mobility of well educated and dedicated leaders within the parties. The present leadership of the political parties based on cult and links to famous names must be put to an end. A culture of choosing or electing the leaders of the parties based on ability, integrity and dedication, must be put in place of the present system of dynastic leadership. Able leaders with better character coming to positions of leaderships within the parties, on their achieving state power, can be counted on to work for good governance and not self.
Presently, black money holders and others with ill gotten possessions, are freely able to buy the nominations of the political parties as candidates for elections. This must be absolutely brought to an end. It is the practice now to make eligible for elections the big bank loan defaulters who are found to be corrupt persons in most cases, by allowing them to make a one time payment against their loans to get rescheduling status for the loans. But this gimmick must be brought to an end. Big loan defaulters need to be absolutely barred from getting such seasonal rescheduling facility to prevent them from dabbling in politics.