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09.03.2009 Feature Article

Political development in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is a country of South Asia that emerged in the globe through a 24-year long struggle for self rule and finally got independence in 1971 after a 9-month long bloody war. Despite having a long history of struggle, the political development in post independent era did not entirely support the nation's democratic practice.

It is a hard truth that since independent and up to 1990 the nation only enjoyed democracy from 1973 general election, where Bangladesh Awami League (AL) - the party was at the leadership of liberation war, to formation of BAKSHAL, the one party governance system. There must be the debate that BAKSHAL was a justified political and governance system or not. Whether it was the demand of the time or not, but it is the fact that the system was not complying with the democratic governance.

This governance was in existence for a very thin period of time. In August 15, 1975 mutineer killed Banghabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, father of the nation, and from then military and semi-military rule began to rule gripping people's will for a democratic practice. Such misrule continued till 1990.

After the killing of national leaders on August 15 and Nov 3, 1975, clouds of uncertainty were looming over the country. A series of mutiny in military and unrest in civil life was major concerns of that time.

One liberation time sector commander Major General Zia ur Rahman emerged as the military and political leader of the country. Under martial law, General Zia became president and formed the political party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). In the 1979 parliament poll, BNP had absolute majority in parliament. In 1981, Zia ur Rahman was killed at a mutiny in Chittagong and in 1982, General Hossain Mohammad Ershad, came in to state power by ousting the then elected president Justice Abdus Sattar and proclaimed martial law.

By the time Sheikh Hasina elected as the president of AL and Khaleda Zia took the leadership of BNP. The democratic movement of 1990s against military rule was led by both the ladies that reached at the success on December 1990. The struggle for democracy of 90s of last century made the two major political parties i.e. AL and BNP, more capable in addressing peoples' issues, of course made the two ladies as national-level pivotal leaders.

The decades-long struggle for democracy made the people more conscious about rights and also made them loyal to the major political parties unconditionally that is a phenomenon blockage for social justice. But it is also should be mentioned that bad democracy always better than any other pattern of governance as there is no alternative of democracy where individuals are safe in terms of rights and livelihood.

In December 1990, military autocrat HM Ershad was ousted through a peoples' upsurge, which made the people and political parties more confident about democratic governance and finally Bangladesh entered into the era of democracy. There might be differences of opinions on the quality of democracy. It is also a fact that as of a nation of South Asia, Bangladesh also had a democracy with feudal flavor.

From 1991 to 2006 Bangladesh enjoyed democracy twice under Khaleda Zia led BNP and once under Sheikh Hasina led Awami League. Khaleda Zia took over first in 1991 just after the collapse of military autocracy and second in 2001, that time she was succeeding Sheikh Hasina who was the prime minister of the country from 1996 for five-year tenure. Of course, we should say that those three tenures of democratically elected governments are the periods of democracy, may be the democracy was not adequate in all means; but there is a possibility of achieving better democratic system in terms of social justice and political development.

Disruption of democratic practice is not expected, accepted and desired by anyone sane and the people of Bangladesh are also not the exception. But it is a cruel truth that, in 2007, the political scenario welcomed the disruption of democracy. Now, certainly, the question could be raised that who were the persons and which were the institutions and organizations liable for that unexpected disruption of democracy. As a matter of fact, the party in power, in last tenure, BNP, must share the major part. A military backed interim government came into state power on January 11, 2007. This extra democratic interim government ran the state for two years. In that period of time, I would say, it was the disruption of democracy and obviously, politicians and state mechanism had the ability to avoid the disruption, if they want to. People are the phenomenon of the political development; those are only dream to a governance system where individuals would be honored.

In this scenario, there are many happenings over the political canvas of the country. People, politicians, intellectuals, academics and development partners are keen to see a quick return of democracy in Bangladesh.

Other words, Bangladesh is a country that involved in a continuous struggle for democracy. Subsequent to setting up of an elected government in 2009 following a two years long extra democratic interim government that imposed state of emergency, it was expected to all that the nation is heading to enjoy political stability, economic prosperity and social justice. This expectation was being generated in the mind of people that they were convinced about the latest development of political culture, administrative behavior and pattern of government- bureaucracy relationship. As a matter of fact, it would be wise to go through the very recent happenings list of Bangladesh for better understanding of the political development of the nation.

Oct 28, 2006: Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia steps down at end of a five-year term. Twenty-five people die in political party clashes over appointment of a caretaker government.

Oct 29: President Iajuddin Ahmed sworn in as head of a caretaker administration by passing few other constitutional options.

Nov 28: A country wide agitation took place under Awami League led alliance.

Jan 3, 2007: Sheikh Hasina announces boycott of Jan. 22 election. Street protests bring Dhaka to a standstill.

Jan 11: President Iajuddin declares state of emergency consulting with military Chiefs and steps down as caretaker head, handing role to Fakhruddin Ahmed, a former central bank governor. The Jan 22 election is cancelled.

April 12: Murder charges filed against Hasina and more than 50 others over deaths of 10 activists in Oct. 28 street protests.

July 16: Hasina jailed by the army-backed interim government to await trial on charge of extorting $1 million from two businessmen while in power.

Sept 3: Khaleda and her businessman son arrested and detained by security forces on corruption charges.

May 7, 2008: Hasina formally charged for graft days after similar charges against Khaleda. They deny all charges.

June 11: Hasina released on parole and flies to the United States for medical treatment.

July 3: The anti-Corruption Commission brings new graft charges against Khaleda for embezzling money from an orphanage.

Aug 5: Hasina's Awami League supporters win almost all positions in local elections.

Sept 9: Khaleda bailed after 12 months detention.
Sept 16: Hasina granted bail in one of several corruption cases, allowing her to return from the United States.

Nov 3: Interim government relaxes emergency rules to allow party meetings and rallies ahead of parliamentary election.

Nov 6: Hasina returns to Dhaka from the United States.

Dec 11: Hasina formally launches her election campaign. Khaleda launches her campaign the next day. In the ensuing weeks they accuse one another of corruption, vote-rigging and inciting violence, and each says she fears for her life.

Dec 17: Bangladesh lifts two-year-old state of emergency, but army is deployed across the country to insure a peaceful election process, heavy security forces are present at election rallies, and militants are detained and explosives seized.

Dec 29: An alliance headed by Hasina wins 263 seats in the 300-seat parliament, which most independent observers describe as relatively free and fair. The four-party alliance led by Khaleda wins 31 seats.

Jan 6, 2009: Sheikh Hasina is sworn in as prime minister, ending two years of rule by military backed interim government.

Feb 25: Paramilitary forces of the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) mutiny in Dhaka . More than 70 people were killed by the mutineer including at least 64 army officers. The investigation is going on in this regard.

One thing should be mentioned that present world is interrelated and interdependent in terms of politics, economics, development and diplomacy. As region, South Asia is more close to each other of SAARC members. Disability of any member nation influenced others economy, business, development. It is the time to establish stability over the region.

Mohoshin Abbas
Mohoshin Abbas, © 2009

This author has authored 26 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: MohoshinAbbas

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