Thursday, February 28, 2008

No new brand of democracy

Source: UPI Asia Online
Rater Jonaki
Februrary 25, 2008

HONG KONG, China, The chief of the Bangladesh army, General Moeen U Ahmed, has been calling for the country to have its "own brand of democracy" for a long time. The concept, reiterated in the general's recently published book, is a burning topic in the country.
The general has not publicly clarified exactly what he means by his "own brand of democracy" theory; thus people are both curious and suspicious about what it would entail. Would this be another militarized brand of democracy?

In some of his recent media appearances Moeen has emphasized this undisclosed type of democracy in order to criticize current practices of the government of Bangladesh, as well as that of Britain, by calling them "Westminster democracy." In Moeen's view, there are only two political parties in Britain, which do not represent the whole range of public opinion. On the other hand, Bangladesh had been ruled by an extraordinarily powerful prime minister, who has always been supported by the ruling party and opposed by the opposition.

The reality of democracy in Bangladesh is basically that the government is formed through an election in which many voters are deprived of the right to cast their vote, and others are forced to vote a certain way, by the musclemen who control different areas of the country. It is almost more a feudal society than a democratic one.

Sometimes candidates have felt they were defeated as a result of vote-rigging or other malpractice and have lodged complaints with the Election Commission. In some such instances, the commission has failed to reach a judgment until after the current session of Parliament was over. By that time, the person who was elected -- legally or illegally -- has already enjoyed all the perks and privileges of being a member of Parliament, including participating in making legislation.

From the local government to the national elections, the use of excessive muscle power is more or less the same. It does not represent the opinion of the electors.

In decision making, whether in Parliament or at various levels of government, might is right! For instance, according to section 70 (1) of the Constitution of Bangladesh, a member of Parliament will be deemed absent if he votes against his party's position, even if the proposed bill is unrealistic or controversial or contradicts fundamental rights provided in the Constitution. Nothing more is necessary to show how arbitrary is the Constitution in supporting party politics, especially the ruling party. This cannot be called democracy in any sense.

The question is how democracy is perceived and practiced and participated in by society. Democracy requires the rule of law, not the rule of bureaucrats or politicians or the police.

What happens in Bangladesh if someone's civil rights are violated? Can the person lodge a complaint without paying a bribe at the police station? Is there any acceptable institution working to monitor what the police are doing and undoing? Will there be any impartial and honest investigation by the police unless both parties bribe the investigating officer as well as the concerned officials?

Is there any guarantee that there will be no interference by any of the influential groups, including public representatives and public servants, if any of the parties are in a position to involve them? Is there any guarantee that prosecution will take place without any bias or exploitation, by extracting money or delaying the matter if it doesn't serve the interest of the related professionals to resolve it?

Is there any guarantee that the judge or magistrate will be honest during the trial? Is there any guarantee that the order of the court will be implemented, if it requires intervention from any other government institution? Is there any guarantee that authorities will be held responsible for ignoring their jobs or failing to prove their accountability to the citizens?

Unfortunately, the answers to all the above questions will be a frustrated "No." That's why democracy does not work and people do not get the real benefits of it; rather the Bangladeshis are forced to learn how to suffer more and more.

If anyone truly wishes to benefit the people, he or she must make a credible attempt to change the existing system that runs the country. Bangladesh does not need to give birth to any "mule" type of democracy.

Democracy has its own qualities and characteristics, and these include accountability on the part of elected officials. Militarization of all sectors of the country should be avoided. Rather than discussing "reformation" in mocking tones, truly concerned leaders should throw out the repressive systems of government and replace them with effective and functioning institutions that accord with the laws of the land and serve the real needs of the people.

Bangladesh is overwhelmed by the black hands and arbitrary attitudes of the rulers and their associates. This rubbish needs to be removed from the nation forever.

(Rater Zonaki is the pseudonym of a human rights defender based in Hong Kong working at the Asian Human Rights Commission. He is a Bangladeshi national with a degree in literature from a university in Dhaka. He began his career as a journalist in 1990 and engaged in human rights activism at the grassroots level in his country for more than a decade. He also worked as an editor for publications on human rights and socio-cultural issues and contributed to other similar publications.)

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