Has anything really changed?
They elected in voice votes only the party's president and general secretary. And they were made to delegate their voting rights to the president and general secretary to choose other office bearers including 16 members of the presidium, four joint general secretaries, one treasurer and 31 secretaries including eight organising secretaries.
This brought some crucial questions to surface once again: can voting rights be delegated and is such a practice healthy for a democracy? Does a lack of intra-party democratic practice hamper democratisation of a country and affect governance in the country?
It goes without saying that the kind of role a political party plays is enormously important in a democracy. In the views of renowned American political scientist Elmer Eric Schattschneider "modern democracy is unthinkable save in terms of the parties."
The legal framework of Bangladesh also focuses on the importance of political parties to build a democratic state. In article 11, the constitution announces that the Republic will be a democracy. And formers of our constitution were well aware of the importance of political parties in making the country's charter. In article 152 a political party has been defined as it reads: "Political party includes a group or combination of persons who operate within or outside Parliament under a distinctive name and who hold themselves out for the purpose of propagating a political opinion or engaging in any other political activity."
In the wake of a strong outcry over lack of intra-party democratic practice in political parties in our country, the electoral laws were reformed in 2008 introducing the political parties' registration system with the EC. A political party willing to contest the parliamentary election must get registered with the EC. One of the major objectives of the registration system is to encourage intra-party democratic practice. A provision of the Representative of People Order on registration says a political party charter must have provision to elect the members of the committee at all levels including members of the central committee. Another provision says the charter of a party willing to get registration must be in conformity with our constitution meaning the objectives of the party must not be anti-democracy.
To qualify for contesting the 2008 parliamentary election, at least 39 political parties including AL brought some amendments to their charter and get registered with the EC. The AL charter also speaks for holding elections to all posts of office bearers of its central committee. Therefore, the AL national council was legally obliged to elect all office bearers of the party's central committee.
But, legal provisions lose their force if they are not honoured and enforced. This has frequently been the case in many occasions in the country, giving the birth of the culture of impunity. Political parties also are beneficiaries of this culture. Take their attitude towards the legal provisions on the registration system. The then ruling AL national council in its council 2009, disregarded the provision for electing all the office bearers of the party's central committee. The national council then elected only president and general secretary and empowered them to pick all other office bearers. Its archrival, another major political party, followed suit in its national council in 2009. The ruling AL again applied the formula in its 2012 council. The BNP also did the same in its council held a few months ago. And the latest AL national council followed the same formula.
All along the Election Commission has remained silent saying nothing in face of disrespect to the legal provision on the registration system. The EC must be proactive in enforcing the laws. Otherwise, the laws will remain only in paper.
In the AL national council held with unprecedented festivity, the government's achievements and development activities-both already implemented and at the stage of implementation were in focus. The grassroots level leaders were also directed to visit door to door to inform people about the developments to drum up their support for winning the next parliamentary election. This council therefore might have energised the grassroots level leaders to campaign for the party to ensure a win in the next election. There is nothing wrong with such directives as in a democracy a political party is an organised attempt to get control of the government. But this council contributed little to encourage intra-party democratic practice as there was no discussion and debate on the party's programmes, organisational capacity, wrong doings and unlawful activities by many AL men and other important issues. In a democracy, one of the major functions of the party in power is to hold the government accountable for its activities. The AL council did nothing in this regard. Will development be sustainable in the absence of democracy?
In a democracy political parties engage, select, and train people for elected positions and offices. The political parties are also considered schools of democracy for party leaders and activists. They learn democratic practice in the parties. Therefore when trained people hold an elected office they try to encourage democratic practice in the institution. Their collective efforts help democratisation of the state's various institutions. But if they do not learn democratic practice in the party, they do not practice democracy when they hold an elected offices or positions. The sorry state of our political institutions testifies how they are victims of the democratic deficiency within our major political parties, particularly the AL and BNP- the two major parties that have been running the country in turns since 1991.
There are many examples in developing and underdeveloped countries where political parties are held responsible for the failure to create democracy. Such failure foils every effort to democratise a state's major institutions, resulting in poor governance. As a result of continuous failure, the dream for state building remains a distant cry. Therefore, democratisation of political parties must be given priority for democratisation of the state's institutions. Is there any visible movement in that direction?
The write is a special correspondent, The Daily Star.