Which way is pluralistic democracy headed? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 18, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:38 AM, January 18, 2019

Which way is pluralistic democracy headed?

We have known democratic pluralism, pluralistic democracy and multi-party system to be synonymous terminologies. But is it as simplistic as that? Conceptually and ideally, it is; but in practice and real-world situations, it may not be so!

There has been a quiet but irrepressible systemic transformation over the years—in matters mainly political. Although we are wedded to pluralistic democracy and the recent general election has seen multiple parties across the political spectrum throw their hats in the ring, the outcome has been singularly one-sided to the exclusion of any opposition political party. But multi-party system in politics is a governance paradigm in which more than two parties truly have a chance to get to real political power.

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One could say jote politics is an expression of political pluralism; theoretically yes, but as days go by, the predominance of the one or the other major party, even if the latter might have been weakened, is depended on a win at the election. The scramble for contesting on either of the two major parties' electoral symbol—Nouka or Dhaner Shish—exposed the lack of identity recognition on the part of smaller parties.

In India, despite the dominant political presence of national political parties like the BJP and a somewhat resurrected Congress Party, an admixture of social caste-centric and regional dynamics has shaped coalition of political forces. With the Left in an equation of its own, sometimes the socio-regional forces have welded together, and sometimes not; even so they remain a force to reckon with at the state, and even central politics. Obviously, a coalition government in the truest sense of the term did not exist in independent Bangladesh; yet electoral alliances have been the order of the day.

That said, even the semblance of bi-partisanship as part of a two-party system that had been in vogue here like in the Anglo-Saxon world—the US and UK—has been missing. And when not missing, it had taken an aberrant form marking a rise of partisanship or bias in favour of a particular party-turned-loyalist opposition- government mix. For the ruling party derived a relaxation from parliamentary boycott or walkout from the opposition.

So it is neither dispassionately pluralistic nor binary in the sense of an alternating hold on power but hopefully potentially nurturing an emergence of youth power.

Does it mean, however, a politically conscious person would have preferred anything short of a strongly mandated government to take the nation forward? Not at all—only “electoral engineering and overkill” could have set a bad precedent that the government should be wary of in its best long-term interest. Independent observers and well-wishers of Bangladesh feel that way, one can sense that! As a marker, it is worth noticing that even those who eulogised the PM's developmental and counter-terrorism successes (in terrorism and passport indices Dhaka is a few notches higher!) wanted a credible probe into the allegations raised in the media. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that we would be counselled on a fallout of our conduct of the election which we should have kept above reproach of our own volition.

The Victorian Era Prime Minister of Britain Benjamin Disraeli with a philosophical flourish once said, “No government can be long secure without a formidable opposition.” It is in the best interest of the party in power to foster constructive dissent in and outside of the parliament in order to benefit thereby, going forward. Taking a cue from the artistes, litterateurs, intellectuals, academics who had backed up the prime ministers' re-election campaign, one likes to hope the PM would reach out to the broader civil society.

In this context, we welcome the PM's offer of continuing structured dialogue with the political parties—BNP, Oikyafront, needless to say, minus Jamaat-e-Islami elements. As hinted by her, Sheikh Hasina is looking for recommendations from the elderly politicians of all stripes.

To my mind, the PM has beamed two profoundly positive signals; these could be termed a statement of intent. One, she has emphasised that she is the prime minister of the whole country and the people; and two, her fourth term increases her “responsibility”.

Since peace dividends have been an acknowledged fact, all political classes must abjure the path of violence which they have been doing scrupulously since participating in the election. Let the spirit of live-and-let-live triumph. Landslide victory of a political party, if history is any guide, may lead a parliamentary autocracy with a majoritarian approach. An answer lies in enhancing intra-party democracy.

Broadly, an inspiration may perhaps be drawn from the following quote: “Generosity is the highest form of intelligence.” This high objective may be meshed with the more pragmatic definition of politics being an art of the “attainable”. But Albert Einstein has the final word: “The state is made for man, and not man for the state.”


Shah Husain Imam is adjunct faculty at East West University, a commentator on current affairs, and former Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

Email: shahhusainimam@gmail.com

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