We want to hear bolder voice from civil society
If a govern-ment is voted to power through a free and fair election, is there a guarantee that the outcome would be a democratic government? There is no such guarantee if you are talking about Bangladesh.
Though the Jatiya Sangsad elections held during the last twenty years in Bangladesh were free and fair, can we honestly claim that the governments that came to power through those polls were really democratic?
It is a hard question to ask for an honest answer in Bangladesh. That is because there is every chance that the prospective respondent might be a supporter of either of the two major political camps led by the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).
The supporters of AL, for instance, will say that all the governments in which their party ruled were democratic ones, while those ruled by the BNP were undemocratic. The camp followers of BNP will express exactly the opposite view. Those belonging to neither of the camps may have a more objective view of the reality. But they belong to the segment of the population that we call the silent majority. Neither camp cares about what this silent section of the electorate think.
But thanks largely to the non-party, neutral, caretaker governments formed to conduct those elections since 1991 that the incumbents always failed to turn the election results in their favour. But even the tide of anti-incumbency hardly helped matters, since no fundamental change in the quality of governance could be effected as a result of such elections. And as soon as the euphoria over each such electoral result died down, the electorate again began to feel cheated as the new rulers started show their real face.
Intoxicated with newfound power, the ruling party, on the other hand, used to miss the very point of why the majority electorate did give them the mandate to rule the country in the first place. Their electoral success blinds them to reason. In their obsession with self-glory, they begin to think that their setback in the previous election was not due to any wrong committed by them while in government. On the contrary, they draw the conclusion that the electoral reverse they suffered last time was the outcome of a conspiracy hatched by their enemies in the caretaker government, in the Election Commission as well as in the different organs of the state in collusion with the opposition party. This dangerous conclusion leads them to consolidate their power in the most naked manner to ensure that they may not have to face any electoral defeat in the next general election.
What followed is politicisation of every branch and tier of the administration. Haunted by what they perceive to be an opposition that has no other business but to plot and weaken and thus topple them, they train their propaganda machine on the sole purpose of demonising the opposition and portraying them as the enemy of the people. And so they have hardly any qualms about denying the opposition space in parliament and on the street. The opposition, too, tries to pay the ruling party in the same coin.
By margina-lising the opposition, the ruling party screens itself from external criticism of its performance in governance, while the party loyalists' role remains confined to only singing in praise of their leader and extending unqualified support to every action the leader takes, right or wrong.
The former Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) A.T.M. Shamsul Huda, at a recent seminar, rued that the ruling party grabs everything, encourages muscle power and corruption. The end result is the destruction of the rule of law.
By dint of his position as the former CEC, Mr. Huda is privy to some very hard truths about the major political parties and their behaviour in power. He has stressed the importance of the rule of law, a view also echoed by the eminent jurist Dr. Kamal Hossain. More importantly, the latter focussed on the destruction of democracy it has caused.
But it is not only Mr. Huda and Dr. Hossain, who are aghast at the present state of democracy and governance in Bangladesh. What they have said is obvious. Many intellectuals and civil society members have expressed their disgust in a similar fashion at the chaotic state of affairs all around. But no one has thrown any light on a possible way out of this situation.
Just stating the obvious is not going to solve our problem. People like A.T.M. Shamsul Huda and Dr. Kamal Hossain need to come forward with bolder pronouncements to save the democracy for which the people have been fighting since independence.
Constitutional experts like Dr. Hossain, may think of initiating a fresh debate on the Article 70 of the Constitution, which has to a large measure been responsible for muffling any dissenting voice of the MPs in the Jatiya Sangsad.
But they need to think hard and not let precious time to slip through their fingers.