Time for change in Bangladesh

Bangladesh deserves better in the way of political leaders. The Awami League, currently in government, and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party are run by women whose rivalry transcends the cut and thrust of normal democratic politics. It has indeed descended into the realms of hatred in which the cuts and thrusts are fully armed with sharpened daggers.

And this is no exaggeration. Time and again as the Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina and BNP’s leader Khaleda Zia jockey for power, their supporters regularly clash on the streets and these encounters leave dozens dead.  What appeals for calm each leader makes are unconvincing in their sincerity because both are perfectly content to allow this deadly street violence to be another tool in their political armory.

Yet despite the disfigurement of the political process caused by the deep enmity between the leaders of the two main political parties, Bangladesh’s democracy once had one outstanding feature. This was that at the end of a government’s term of office, the election process and indeed the running of the country itself was undertaken by a caretaker administration formed of technocrats.

Some have claimed that the quality of governance improved notably in the three-month campaigning period while the non-political bureaucrats were in charge. Others point out that the real impact of the arrangement was that the business of government actually marked time, since those charged with running things avoided any substantive decisions for which they might be held responsible.

Nevertheless, the system worked and, moreover, it worked well in terms of the running of the electoral process. However two years ago, the Awami League drove through a change to the constitution which abolished the interim caretaker government on the dubious grounds that the system was undemocratic.  The effect of this change of course is that Sheikh Hasina stays  in office during the hustings. The BNP fears, with considerable justification, that the government will use its continuing power to disadvantage opposition parties during the electoral process.  Indeed there are fears that the Awami League government may well seek to fix the vote.

Though it was protested at the time, the full impact of the abolition of interim caretaker governments is now becoming all too apparent.  What the change has achieved is to sow even greater suspicion among BNP supporters of the Awami League’s intentions.  With that suspicion comes increased tension and with that, as night follows day, will be further street violence.  Every death and injury achieves nothing except to blacken the reputation of Bangladesh’s two preeminent  political leaders.

It remains a mystery to those who wish Bangladesh well how this appalling and totally negative state of affairs can be allowed to continue. Democratic politics is about debate and compromise. It is not about street fighting and violence.  The danger for the country is that the military might feel compelled to intervene.  While this might bring a short-term solution to the political chaos, it will not solve the underlying issue.  The time is surely right for the emergence of new parties which are not so deeply stained in animosity and rivalry, and which can put the interests of the country ahead of their own narrow concerns. It must be hoped that ordinary decent voters appreciate that the present political array is an active hinderance to economic and social progress.

Source: Saudi Gazette

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