Compromise as art in democratic politics | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 15, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 15, 2010

Compromise as art in democratic politics


Let us meet halfway. Photo: Pixmann

Former president of USA Thomas Jefferson once said: "I see the necessity of sacrificing our opinions to the opinions of others for the sake of harmony." Creation of an atmosphere of harmony is a necessity in politics, if not always but obviously at certain critical stages, for the sake of democracy.
Compromise is an art to convince others or impress upon others to agree to the views of a party, and to bring them under the same umbrella with argument and justification. It is the acumen and prudence of a politician to enlarge the spectrum of his sphere and broaden his base of supporters.
Politicians unwilling to compromise are typically labelled ideologues or impractical speculators -- a label not regarded as a badge of honour among members of the political class. Politicians who refuse to compromise seldom win, or hold on to office for long. Moreover, uncompromising politicians garner too little to send home to their voters since they remain in opposition. Successful politicians learn quickly the survival value of compromise.
Political Philosopher Jean Bethke Elshtain was rhapsodic about democratic compromise. According to him: "Compromise is not a mediocre way to do politics; it is an adventure, the only way to do democratic politics." Economist Donald Wittman correctly observed: "That is what good politicians do; create coalitions and find acceptable compromises."
In fact, politics is the art of compromise at the level of legislative functions to get a job done with little resistance or unnecessary criticism from the opposition and, at the same time, to continue in power with popularity and pave the way for the next election. But it should be so articulated that voters must believe that the compromise or alliance was necessary for the benefit of the party and the country as a whole. Politics is not compromise at the ballot box, where it is a fight to earn the right to rule.
Nowadays, parliamentary sessions are held but the seats of oppositions remain vacant since no compromise takes place to bring the opposition back to the sessions.
Negotiation in politics is more difficult than negotiations with the World Bank or Asian Development Bank or any other development partner. Officers of cadre services get training at BPATC or elsewhere on how to negotiate with different development partners or entrepreneurs, but politicians must acquire this wisdom by themselves and after much discussion with fellow politicians and followers.
In Bangladesh politics there is perhaps acute scarcity of such negotiating skill, as was observed in the months of September and October of 2006 when renowned and honoured politicians like Late Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan and Abdul Jalil met at least six times to agree to the formation of the caretaker government, but failed. The reasons for their failure might be many or unknown, but the reality was that they could not succeed in the art of compromise.
In a democratic parliamentary environment there is little scope to show vanity or arrogance as people's representatives. Here, money matters little and inheritance or permanent leadership has no value. Those who do not realise this truth are not truly democratic in mind and in spirit. The communicating skill of a politician can win the confidence of voters with the impression that their elected representative is man of principle, justice and equity. In such a situation, the attitude of compromise gets public support in general.
Compromise is not a weakness, it is, rather, a diplomatic overture to gain over opponents. Within parliament and outside, it is the prudence of a politician that wins debates and impresses upon the public in general his party's stand on a particular national issue.
Many ministers lost their portfolio due to irrelevant utterances while many were upgraded for prudent and remarkable presentation in a dignified manner. This was the situation during Ershad's regime, where ministers were censured frequently. Even now, some state ministers speak too much without understanding the implications of their utterances. Thus, a public representative holding a ministerial post or a high post needs to be more sensible and careful in making any remarks.
A compromise can help to reach a mutually agreed upon decision, for which one has to surrender some of his ideas to get things done in the most desired way. For a political party, it should be always for the welfare of the people and the nation as a whole, and to allow democracy to take root in the minds and ways of life of its citizen. This may happen in the parliament or public place, but must be transparent to the people so that they can realise that the attempt is for the welfare of the public and not a palace deal at the cost of the nation.

Dhiraj Kumar Nath is the former adviser to the previous caretaker government.

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