The political impasse prevailing in Bangladesh reached a complex situation. Political differences between major parties remained unresolved through dialogue and negotiation. The status of human rights, freedom of speech, and democratic crises are well discussed and criticized in global as well as regional circles. In 2021, the US levied sanctions against the Bangladeshi elite force, the Rapid Action Battalion, and some of its top officials for human rights violations. In May this year, it announced a visa policy restricting visas for those involved in vote rigging. However, the political crisis in Bangladesh is not all about democracy or elections.
Undeniably, Bangladesh has achieved a decent development record since independence. The economic triumph of the country has been applauded by its development partners and global institutions. Per-capita GDP has grown at an annual rate of nearly 6 percent. The country has uplifted millions of its people through socio-economic policies and plans. Bangladesh will graduate from the group of least developed nations (LDC) in 2026. Moreover, the success in women’s empowerment, advancement in establishing labor rights, achievements in SDGs, MDGs, global hunger, food, and human development indexes are notable instances. But development or economic growth is not an alternative to democracy.
There is no doubt that free and fair elections are necessary for a people-friendly government and administration, which will ensure accountability of the government to its people. Major political parties are the main players in parliamentary elections. If they do not contest effectively, the power balance expected inside polling stations may be missing.
The Bangladesh National Party (BNP) alleged the country’s electoral system and the electoral boycott became a regular tool of their movement. The developing democracy of Bangladesh is facing the imposition of noncompetitive regimes. So, the scope of the spread of disinformation and misinformation remains undetermined. As a result, the ruling party is experiencing the consequences regarding democratic rights in the international arena. The ruling Awami League too has not drafted strategies to conduct an acceptable election. Hence, the crisis is more likely to pile on. Bangladesh has to ensure a free fair election and strike a fine diplomatic balance among the major global powers for its development discourse. Let’s focus on some important issues and factors in this regard.
Strengthening the progressive forces:
Bangladesh has continually experienced prolonged periods of political instability, corruption, and human rights violations. The country is facing a growing extremist threat, and its increasingly authoritarian government has exacerbated many of the problems that have stifled its potential to become an influential global actor. Awami League could have helped Bangladesh overcome its democratic deficit by helping strengthen secular political forces and institutions.
Politics in Bangladesh is affected, directly or indirectly, by some other inextricably linked issues like global and regional security, political stability, Islamic militancy, extremism, communal harmony, etc. For example: minority communities are the worst victims of election-time violence.
Despite being in power for a long time, the Awami League did not take any initiative to strengthen the like-minded progressive parties or help them come to Parliament. In the last two national elections, had the Awami League been generous enough to give at least 100 seats to the opposition parties, the government would have avoided a lot of criticism.
AL didn’t create any opportunity for politicians like Mahi B Chowdhury, Shamser Mubin Chowdhury, Quader Siddiqui, Barrister Sumon, or others who would have directly or indirectly strengthened the progressive forces. As a result, the Awami League has walked the path of becoming friendless in politics.
Absolute majority doesn’t ensure absolute democracy:
We have studied and selected three parliamentary constituencies through observations and trending news analysis that would focus on how to overcome present shortcomings.
● 1. The tendency to seek an absolute majority at any cost created a gruesome problem for the ruling party of Bangladesh. A common practice among the ruling party leaders is that many of them do not consider the voters important. Even seeking votes bears no importance. The best example is Kamal Ahmed Majumder, who is going to get nominated from AL for the constituency of Dhaka-15. According to different sources, he believes securing the nomination will ensure the victory. On the other hand, some party workers kept the leader isolated from the people. Without bribing his personal secretary, no one can get access to Mr. Majumder. He was fined in the last general election for violating the electoral code of conduct. Such leaders can only ensure voter-free vote centers.
● 2. Shafiqul Islam Shimul, Awami League’s possible candidate for Natore-2 is one of the most controversial lawmakers of Bangladesh. In the last general election he said no one other than the voters of the ‘boat’ symbol would go to the polling centers. In blatant violation of the electoral code of conduct, Shimul was seen in a video footage threatening BNP men of ‘tougher actions against them’ and asking them to work for the boat symbol to save their lives. The video footage of electioneering was taken while he was at Chhatni village of Natore.
Shimul’s father was a 1971 collaborator of the Pakistani war criminals. He has filed a complaint to sue a Rajshahi University teacher under the Digital Security Act for describing this in his book.
Shimul faces various charges including corruption, money laundering, and owning a luxury home in Canada.
According to a source, Shimul is one of those whom the US lists as enemies of democracy. Shimul’s alternative nominee Shariful Islam Ramzan has been criticized for terrorist activities. At least 12 leaders and activists of the ruling party AL have been murdered in factional clashes in the last 13 years in Natore. Ahead of the general elections both Shimul and Ramjan are now trying to gain political ground and their enmity has affected six upazilas of the district.
● 3. HM Ibrahim, the Awami League MP from Noakhali-1, orders lynching of miscreants. A video of his speech has gone viral on social media.
“If anyone files a case [over the lynching], I will be the prime accused, I promise you as an MP,” Ibrahim said.
He was reported as danger for the opposition candidate in Reuters for atrocities created during national election. Apart from this, a large section of the activists may not work for him due to intra-party conflicts. Possibly it will be difficult for Ibrahim to get even 5% votes if the opposition does not participate in the election.
III) Conducting a credible election:
The US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) – an agency of the US – has found 70 percent of Bangladeshis approve of Sheikh Hasina’s performance as prime minister. Now the key issue is how the ruling Awami League will hold an acceptable election. Meanwhile, the BNP and the international quarters sympathetic to them are calling for free elections, but they have failed to come forward to explain their definition of an acceptable election. However, three steps should be taken to conduct a free, fair, and credible election.
● a) How the election will be seen by the international community and to what extent they will accept is one matter. But the more important matter is how the people of Bangladesh will accept the election. People should see and perceive that elections have been inclusive, participatory as well as free and fair. If the BNP does not participate in the next general elections, its credibility will be determined by the selection of qualified candidates and voter turnout.
Choosing honest, educated, qualified, and popular candidates will be the biggest challenge for ruling Awami League. They should refrain from nominating controversial and unpopular leaders particularly those with corruption and terrorist allegations. The bottom line of the ruling party’s election strategy should be to ensure as big a voter turnout as possible. This will make the election appear credible at home and abroad.
● b) The BNP leaders from the grassroots and district level may join the election even if BNP does not contest in the national election. Awami League should encourage them along with its allies to prevent uncontested winning. It can be a good strategy to keep the competition open by not giving party nominations in some constituencies.
● c) In the local-level elections independent and opposition candidates have won which indicates a degree of electoral fairness. A congenial atmosphere should be created for the independent candidates. All cooperation from the administration and law enforcers should be ensured for them.
The debate over Bangladesh’s future resumes in global as well as regional circles because If Sheikh Hasina loses, Bangladesh could face prolonged political and economic crisis. After the brutal killing of the Founding Father of the Nation, the fundamentalist outfits eventually emerged as critical players in bargaining-based and alliance-oriented “democratic” arrangements. If the machinations of the fundamentalist forces get a chance to grab state power, such a situation would not only worry India but also raise concerns about regional unrest and violence in South Asia.
[Hasan Jubayer is a researcher and political analyst. Pradip Kumar is Co-Ordinator of Defenders of Democracy and can be reached by [email protected]]
Source and Reference : https://ddemocracy.org/62/crisis-of-democracy-in-bd
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