Tuesday, 28 March, 2023

Straight Talk: Democracy Deficit in Bangladesh!

  • Abdul Mannan
  • 4th February, 2023 11:06:58 PM
  • Print news

With the 12th Parliament election less than a year away, the country’s opposition politics seems to be all confused and at times at a loss. Currently one of the country’s major opposition political party BNP along with its old and new found allies amongst the left oriented parties, the ultra-right wingers, and of course the single person parties are desperate to go to power after the current tenure of the present government is over, sometimes later this year. The rag-tag conglomerate has been out of power since the end of 2006 and if they cannot make a comeback that perhaps would be the end of many of the components of the conglomerate. The major partner in the conglomerate, the BNP is suffering from a crisis of leadership. Their Chairperson, Begum Zia is serving a long prison term and at the moment is passing her days with her family members as a result of an extraordinary privilege allowed to her by the Prime Minister. Before she was sentenced on different corruption charges she nominated her only surviving son, Tarique Rahman who left the country on a parole in 2007 for improved medical care and currently is living in London with his family as the acting Chairperson of the party. In the meantime he also has been sentenced to long prison terms convicted by the Apex Court of the country for crimes of varied dimensions.

BNP’s constitution contained a clause which said if any member of the party is convicted of any criminal offense he or she will lose his party membership but BNP was quick enough to amend the constitution, dropped this clause so that their Chairman in charge can retain his post. The BNP led opposition conglomerate wants the current government to go as according to them they failed to protect and ensure  democracy in the country and promised that once  they are back to power, they will restore democratic practice in the country forgetting that the party that they belong to was the outcome of  an anti-democratic putsch in 1975 when the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated along with his entire family excepting his two daughters then travelling abroad.

The main opposition party and its allies’ lust for power have become so ugly that they do not hesitate to work against the interest of the common people of the country and the nation itself and indulge in all sorts of ill motivated activities inside the country and abroad crying that they are fighting for the restoration of democracy as mentioned earlier. However, the existing reality is quite different than what they want the world to believe. They just have to look at their past in a mirror. The party was born while its founder General Zia, the first military ruler of the country founded the party while he still held the position of the Army Chief. This was a gross violation of the country’s constitution. To ‘validate’ his position as an unelected President he also arranged for a strange election where he was the only candidate. During this time he and his newly found followers just kept the word ‘democracy’ at bay. He also arranged to hold a make believe parliamentary election in 1979, allowed all the political parties and individuals who opposed the very creation of Bangladesh to participate in the election and even audaciously made one of his party men, Shah Azizur Rahman, the person who went to United Nation to lobby on behalf of Pakistan during our War of Liberation in 1971, the Prime Minister of the country. Zia, just for his self-interest, changed the very meaning of democracy and perhaps that is the brand of democracy the current opposition parties under the umbrella of BNP are demanding on the street.

After the death of Zia in 1981, another military ruler General Ershad seized power and ruled the country till his removal following a mass upsurge in the nineties. The ensuing general election of 1991 saw BNP, this time under Zia’s widow Begum Zia return to power. Unfortunately Begum Zia failed to follow the basic rules of a parliamentary democracy and tried to extend her rule by resorting to all unscrupulous means. However she failed in her bid and was forced out of power in another mass upsurge led by Bangladesh Awami League and its allies. Begum Zia again made a comeback in the election of 2001 but this time she set a new record what a misrule could mean and things went to the extent that her son Tarique Rahman masterminded a grisly plot to annihilate the entire Awami League leadership including Sheikh Hasina, the then Opposition Leader in the parliament through an unprecedented grenade attack on 21 August 2004 when Awami League was holding a peace rally in front of their party office at Bangabandhu Avenue. Tarique Rahman also ran a parallel civil administration in the country and the country during this time virtually had two Prime Ministers.  The rule of law at this time was also kept waiting and no one in BNP felt that democracy was facing extinction. The world also witnessed the meteoric rise of religious fanatics and militants in the name of Islam and under the patronization of the state saw the militants turn parts of North Bengal into killing fields of innocent people. Democracy was never under scrutiny then.

In the recent past the country also witnessed the emergence of many self-styled political leadership and one-man party whose sole aim seems to be unseating the present government through some unconstitutional means and see Bangladesh return to BNP brand of democratic rule. To make their dream turn into a reality they live no stone unturned whether inside the country or abroad to lobby against the interest of the country and its people. In 2013 Begum Zia had an article published in US based Washington Times appealing to the US government to suspend all types of trade related facilities like GSP and stop funding development projects in Bangladesh. Such an act coming from a person who has been the Prime Minister of the country for two full terms is surely an act of sedition but nothing happened to her and still BNP thinks there is a deficit of democracy in Bangladesh.

Following the two years global shut down of economic activities beginning in early 2020 to be followed by an unfortunate war in Europe between Russia and Ukraine followed by US trade sanction against Russia the world witnessed an unprecedented economic downturn.

Developing countries like Bangladesh along with Least Developed Countries of Africa and Latin and Central America witnessed a tremendous economic strain. Foreign exchange reserve much needed to finance its necessary imports saw a sharp decline. Sheikh Hasina began her second tenure as the Prime Minster in 2009 with a foreign exchange reserve of less than US$ 6 billion and it was during her three successive tenures the reserve for the first time rose to US$ 48 billion and fell to US$ 34 billion in recent times. This has not happened only to Bangladesh but virtually all countries of the world.

To make things worse price of essentials like industrial raw materials and energy rose sharply in the international market. Usually if a country has a reserve to finance its three and half months import that country is considered to be comfortable. Bangladesh as of today has a reserve to finance its four and half months of import bill. Still to ease the situation and as a measure to support its annual development budget, Bangladesh requested a soft loan of US$ 4.5 billion from IMF. As IMF is an international development bank before its sanctions any loan to its clients it will surely assess the repayment capability of the borrower before it finalizes its decision to sanction the loan.

While the IMF team was visiting Bangladesh to assess the loan need of Bangladesh and its capability a section of opposition leaders rushed to Washington to convince IMF not to sanction any loan to Bangladesh and one of the former employees of the IMF who is currently a part-time politician belonging to the BNP-led conglomerate just shamelessly announced that receiving the expected loan by Bangladesh from the IMF is farfetched. He claimed he knew how IMF functioned. On 2 February the renowned analyst Michael Kugelman writing for US based Foreign Policy magazine wrote ‘this week, the IMF formally approved a stabilization package for Bangladesh valued at $4.7 billion. The package is he first given to an Asian country that includes funding from IMF’s new Resilience and Sustainability Facility, intended to help vulnerable middle-income countries. Bangladesh’s package comes as its neighbours Pakistan and Sri Lanka - under worse economic stress - have struggled to secure new assistance. The IMF likely has fewer concerns about Dhaka’s economic policies. Announcing the new agreement, IMF Deputy Managing Director Antoinette M. Sayeh praised Bangladesh’s economic growth and said “COVID-19 pandemic and…Russia’s war in Ukraine  interrupted this long period of robust economic  performance—implying that external shocks and not poor policies had provoked the  conditions that prompted Dhaka to go to the IMF.’ When on 30 January the IMF Board sanctioned the US$ 4.7 billion to Bangladesh the gentleman just disappeared from the political radar of the country. As it to embarrass the gentleman IMF released US 476 million on 2 February as one of the seven instalments to Bangladesh of the sanctioned US$4.7 billion.  His audacious activities and statements regarding the IMF loan has gone unpunished as the country still has some democracy left where even former IMF staff  can express his or her opinion hitting at the very foundation of the country where they reside.

People are baffled as to what brand of democracy is BNP-led conglomerate talking about that they want to see Bangladesh revert to? If it is the brand that they practiced when they were in power, then they must be suffering from amnesia. However, there will always be rooms for improvement in any democratic system and Bangladesh is no exception. The type of democracy that BNP and its allies are clamouring now is not the type that the people of the country desire or need.

(The writer is an analyst and a commentator.)

Source: Sun Editorial