Bangladesh: Redefining democracy

Since the declaration of the state of emergency in January 11, 2007 Bangladesh is going through a major political shift. In a graft busting operation more than 150 senior politicians, top civil servants and businessmen have been arrested. The list includes influential ministers from past regime, MPs from the major political parties and top shot businessmen and ex Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's son Tareque Rahman was not spared. With the recent execution of 6 death-sentenced militants, the caretaker government had also sent the message that terrorism will not be tolerated. Sense of sanity prevails in Bangladesh after years of political acrimony between the major two political parties Awami League and BNP. Common people seem to be not much bothered by the suspension of some rights like detainment without charge-sheet and barring criticisms against the government.

While the chief adviser, in effect the prime minister of the Caretaker Government Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed is the Boss of Bangladesh (as termed by the TIME magazine ), the military backing of the government is more than obvious. There are no shortage of rumors and predictions but the January 11 change was more or less “a bloodless diplomatic coup in Bangladesh” as termed by the blogger Shada Kalo . It is clear that the armed forces do not want to come in front directly for many reasons and this move was tacitly supported by the Western governments.

Blogger Asif Saleh writes in the Himal South Asian writes about this ‘pseudo innovation of an unelected, military-backed government’, which is gaining popular support. He critics the conventional party politics in Bangladesh “If democracy can be manipulated to serve a chosen few, is it practical in developing countries?”

Shah Zaman Mozumder, like many Bangladeshis is impressed with the performance of the Care Taker Government and thinks that it has produced an alternate reality for Bangladesh. He approves the apparent long-time engagement of this form of government:

“What will any of us, the common people gain if these corrupt politicians are allowed to come back to power and start a repetition of the last 36 years? Do we really expect them to reform overnight and become saints? Is it more rational that we should allow the caretaker government to continue its noble task and go for elections only when an enabling environment for democracy is created?”

He even goes a little bit further in proposing:

“The caretaker government to organize a referendum so that we, the people of Bangladesh, can formally show our support for the actions undertaken by the caretaker government.”

But this euphoria of common people is mystified by some remarks of the chief of army of Bangladesh who said the military-backed interim government would build a new brand of democracy to overcome the country’s chronic poor governance. This has prompted a lively debate on this issue in the Drishtipat Blog. People are predicting that he is talking about the Singaporean model of democracy or the Musharrof model of Pakistan.

Bangladesh Watchdog publishes a criticism saying “Bangladesh army chief should be seen but not heard“. Asif Saleh warns:

“History shows that, just as night follows day, military governments that start with a clean agenda end up as part of the problem”

So what is the way out for Bangladesh? Shouldn’t it stick to the form of elective democracy after the transition phase and look at how reforms in the electoral process can be made to make it more effective? The other experiments will risk the navigation of the country in unchartered territory.

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