Cutting through the Gordian knot
BNP has elected a controversial political figure, who is alleged to be corrupt, to the second most powerful position in a major political party, and empowered the chairperson of the party to appoint other office bearers and members of national executive and standing committees ignoring the party charter that provides for election to these posts.
This feeling of insecurity of and sycophancy by some political leaders of long standing is a complete contradiction of politics, interpreted by German philosopher Jurgen Habermas as being reflexive of ethical life and where citizens aware of their dependence on one another shape and develop their relations into an association of free and equal consociates under law.
Amartya Sen sees democracy as "government by discussion" and quotes John Rawls that "the definitive idea of deliberative democracy is the idea of deliberation itself. When citizens deliberate, they exchange views and debate their supporting reasons concerning public political questions (The Idea of Justice, 2009)." When total authority is vested in the person of the head of the political party then the concept of democracy as public reason loses its meaning.
South Asia particularly has displayed the trait of sycophancy, more than many in the world, in adhering to monarchic style of political supremacy and power passing on from one to another within the family. In the cases of India and Sri Lanka Nehrus/Gandhis and Bandaranaykes/Kumaratunga went on to the helm of affairs through political process and personal sacrifices. In Pakistan Shaheed Benazir Bhutto willed before her death the chairmanship of Pakistan People's Party that she headed to her young son who is still a student.
In the US, after John Adams and his son John Quincy Adams many decades had to pass by before father/son, George Herbert Bush and George W. Bush, were elected presidents of the country. But in the US the presidency was not bequeathed but had to be won through election. In Europe, Greece remains with comparatively weaker political institutions with Papandreous and Karamanlises becoming prime ministers of the country.
In Lebanon the son was elected prime minister when the father, still in office, was assassinated. In Britain, the premierships of William Pitt the Elder and Pitt the Younger are matters of the 18th /19th centuries. In Congo and Somalia we have seen son succeeding the father, as in Duvalier's Haiti.
Many countries of South Asia have not been able to get over the overarching influence of feudalism. Poverty stricken people denied of the fruits of secular education are unaware of their basic rights. From birth, most of these people live under the dictates of village headmen and rich men of the locality. Even under so-called democracies the people vote according to the dictates of the influential few of the village.
Governmental functionaries at the local level, as at other levels, are generally insecure and work for the rich. This precludes any possibility of justice and fairness for the common people and the concept of government of the people, by the people and for the people is nipped in the bud. Added is the disillusionment of the people about politicians caused by unfulfilled promises made by candidates at the time of election. They in turn choose as leader who they think would ensure their victory in the elections. Besides, the voters with low literacy rate are unable to comprehend the election manifestoes and generally vote for party symbols at the dictate of the influential people.
Under the patriarchal system, women who constitute a significant number of total voters do not vote for a candidate of their choice and instead they vote for the candidate chosen by husband/father. At the root is the vicious cycle of poverty that transforms the rights of the poor and the voiceless as alms given, and governance as a matter of charity by the coterie of rulers who effectively rule by dint of "divine rights."
Thus, the cycle of family-dominated politics goes on. Essentially, the politics of underdevelopment is oligopolistic and sharing of the cake in post-election era is the norm and not the exception, and people around the "power" seeking fruits of victory form the Praetorian Guards around the centre of power.
Lessons should be learnt from the council meeting of a major party held a few days back. The first lesson should be to break the cycle of family rule. Attempts should be made to train future leaders regardless of blood ties. Instead of giving all powers to the party chairperson elections should be held at all levels to find out honest, dedicated, educated and competent leaders.
Re-election of party chairperson should be capped to a certain period. People should be constantly informed of the party's programmes, whether in power or out of power, enabling the voters to make correct judgment at the time of elections. Local elections should be held at regular intervals and the elected officials should be duly empowered. The Gordian knot shackling democracy has to be cut if Bangladesh is to achieve the socio-economic development that we all seek.