Sadly enough, democracy has remained a far cry in this country. While political power has practically see-sawed between the BNP and the AL, the pattern of their rule has remained the same
- How similar is our democracy to Great Britain’s?
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, during her recent visit to the UK, said Bangladesh was following the Westminster type of democracy, ie the British model. She also said it was a difficult job following such a style of democracy, and that we were improving, but gradually. She made these observations at a reception at the office of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, UK Chapter, at the British parliament, on June 15.
Now, this sort of statement by our visiting prime minister may have gone down well with the people of Great Britain, who may not know exactly how democracy is functioning here in Bangladesh.
But can the democracy-loving people of Bangladesh take to heart what our prime minister had said?
True, soon after our independence in 1971, we opted for parliamentary democracy and the government, headed by Bangabandhu as prime minister, was something this nation was proud of. Here was the man we loved and admired for having led us to our freedom and independence. Here was the man who epitomised democracy and the democratic aspirations of our people. Here was the man who came back to freedom from captivity in Pakistan.
But the euphoria did not last long. Barely three years of democracy, and our leading players in politics grew wary of it. Ironically, it was Bangabandhu who soon got disenchanted with democracy and who drove the first nail in its coffin by introducing BAKSAL, a one-party rule. He became the most powerful individual in the country, with all the powers the state could bestow upon a ruler. Then followed a nightmarish and tragic interregnum.
Finally, with the fall of Lt Gen HM Ershad, the despicable autocrat and impostor, in December 1990, a new era of politics began, with parliamentary democracy being institutionalised once again in this country. It has been more than two decades now since our second journey on the road to democracy began.
But sadly enough, democracy has remained a far cry in this godforsaken country. While political power has practically see-sawed between the BNP and the AL — the pattern of their rule has remained the same.
While in power, both have preferred to rule the country like Ershad had done for nine long years. All sane voices of dissent have been systematically stifled. Both have demonstrated sheer arrogance of power and a pathological distaste for rule of law and functioning democratic institutions. They have politicised, by turn, the police, the civil bureaucracy, the Election Commission , the Public Service Commission, and even the judiciary.
While in power, both have tried to whittle down the opposition to the extent that it becomes so effete that it can never challenge the government, either in the parliament or on the streets. While out of power, both have gone flat out in destabilising the country through repeated hartals and agitations on the streets.
Both have sought to render the parliament dysfunctional by continuous boycott of parliamentary sessions for months and years, without forsaking their perks and privileges, including pay and allowances.
The present government is indeed a queer Westminster-type democracy that she has laboured hard to improve upon. It came into being following the January 5 parliamentary election in 2014, which was boycotted not only by the BNP-led alliance, but by all the opposition political parties.
In 153 constituencies in a 400-seat parliament, voters did not have to cast their votes to elect their representatives because the AL-led alliance had put up a single candidate in each of these constituencies, and they were declared elected, unopposed, by the EC. The magic figure of 153 MPs elected unopposed cannot but raise curiosity because a political party needs just about 151 MPs to form the government.
The election in the remaining constituencies was marred by various irregularities and a very low turnout of voters for obvious reasons. The election apart, the government has an array of unelected advisers enjoying status and privileges of cabinet ministers. Besides, the parliament puts forward the Jatiya Party as an opposition party, led by Ershad, sharing power with the government.
While Rowshan Ershad enjoys the status of the leader of the opposition in the parliament, three Jatiya Party MPs are cabinet ministers.
Ershad himself is a special envoy of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, enjoying the status and privileges of a cabinet minister. The Jatiya Party is reportedly clamouring for more seats in the cabinet.
It is indeed a queer version of democracy.
Source: Dhaka Tribune