BANGLADESH: THE PATH TO DEMOCRACY, 1991-2009
Home About Bangladesh Major Political Parties Liberation War Elections and Leadership Controversy and Public Opinion References and Contact
ELECTIONS AND LEADERSHIP

BEFORE THE MOVE TO DEMOCRACY IN 1990

After any country becomes independent, the road ahead is full of obstacles. It is not easy to achieve democracy and socio-economic development and for Bangladesh that was the case. After Bangladesh received independence in 1971, it had faced the loss of its people due to devastating floods and the loss of two great leaders, General Ziaur Rahman and Shiekh Mujibur Rahman. The rights of the people were also stripped off during the emergencies and military ban. Between 1982 and 1990, Hossain Mohammad Ershad assumes presidency in a military coup further preventing democracy in a nation that needed it desperately. Although democracy is dependent upon the wishes of the majority and it does have its setbacks, it is still the most favorable form of political system as it promotes equality and allows the rights of people to be realized.

1991 ELECTION

In the 1991 General Election, Begum Khaleda Zia’s BNP party won and came to power. BNP formed an alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami Bangladesh party when it contested for the elections. At this time, Hossaim Mohammad Ershad was arrested on corruption charges and illegal possession of weapons. Soon after BNP came into power, the lifelong rivalry between the two leaders Begum Khaleda Zia and Shiekh Hasina and their respective two parties emerged. Shiekh Hasina argued that the elections had not been fair and that the polls were rigged. It carried out a number of demonstrations including holding strikes and protests and not to mention, the boycott from the Parliament. Things continued in this volatile and disturbing manner until the 1996 elections.

1996 ELECTIONS

It is very interesting to know that in 1996 two elections took place within the span of six months. Initially, when it took place in February, BNP won the elections but the Awami League failed to run for the elections, This created turmoil and anger since Awami League was one of the major political parties of Bangladesh and they still had many supporters. So, when a caretaker government re held the elections in June as per the party’s and peoples’ requests, Awami League participated in it and won. The record has been jammed in the player and we get a dejavu once AL assumes power except that the fact that we know it is happening all over again, the boycotts from the parliament by the 4-part alliance in the opposition, the numerous strikes and protests and last but not least the requests and orders for the acting government to step down.

2001 ELECTION

BNP along with its three collation partners win the 2001 General Election and Begum Khaleda Zia becomes leader once more. During this leadership, political situation becomes totally out of control accompanied by natural disasters, violent uprisings, increased corruption and numerous strikes.  AL leader Shiekh survives a grade attack in 2004 while AL party member Shah AMS Kibria becomes the victim of a deadly grenade attack in 2005. At the end of their term, BNP steps down and power is once again handed over to the caretaker government in 2006.

top: People Queue to Vote

2006-2008 OBSTRUCTION TO THE PATH OF DEMOCRACY?

In late 2006, when BNP stepped down, no one had any idea of the storm or sunshine- interpret it as you may- that was to hit Bangladesh. In January of 2007, on the infamous, “1/11”, the army backed caretaker government which was headed by Fakhruddin Ahmed called a state of emergency that was to last two long years. Many welcomed this move as the political situation in Bangladesh reached the boiling point but many viewed it as a repetition of history, and a major obstruction to the path of democracy. During these two years, hundreds of politicians and thousands of political leaders and activists were arrested including the two party leaders Begum Khaleda Zia and Shiekh Hasina. It is very difficult for a country as delicate as Bangladesh to enter into the democratic sphere after it has been out of touch with democracy for two years. The caretaker government even saw this as a chance to introduce a new third party that would revolutionize the political system and bring peace, law and order into the system but to no avail. Therefore the two major parties continued the process of reform coming across various conflicts along the way. By the end of 2008, the people of Bangladesh wanted their leaders back. It would be very interesting the study the psychology of the people of Bangladesh. The two leaders were absent from the stage although not the limelight for just two years and the citizens had already started missing them. Even after the various efforts that had been made to introduce a new party, the citizens were most opposed to such a decision. I guess it must be true that absence really does make the heart grow fonder!

2008 ELECTION

At the end of 2008, the much long awaited and anticipated election took form in what was declared by election observers to be the most transparent, free and fair election ever to take place. That was good news considering the fact that the caretaker government needed two years to make it just perfect through the National Identification Cards and what not. But I was very surprised when I voted this winter, by the fact that I did not need to take my National ID which I thought was the crucial element. Instead they had a view book with all the names and pictures that one signed off once you entered the voting room. AL won in the 2008 General Election along with the Grand 14 party alliance they had formed and won majority seats in the parliament. This landslide victory and the glory however were disrupted soon after the party took office. In February of 2009, around 74 people, mainly army officers, were killed in a mutiny by border guards unhappy with pay and conditions. This was a complete shock to the citizens and to the government who were not aware of the extent these border guards would go to and many think that a bigger and more dangerous party is behind all these attacks.

top: Collection of Photos Taken During the Election

I just want to reiterate the fact that even with all the political instability, growth and development has been achieved in Bangladesh. It cannot be denied that the two controversial leaders during their time in power faced many challenges but the fact of the matter is they did not give up. Their ministries achieved progress in many fields including but not limited to women’s rights, information, communication and technology and industry. When an individual goes back to Bangladesh after 15-20 years, they are awestruck at the number of developments that have been made in both the cities and the rural areas. Globalization has redefined the simple act of consumption and ownership. We can continue blaming the politicians but on the flip side we must also recognize the efforts they have put in to see the country to flourish. As global citizens, it is our responsibility to keep our eyes and ears open and figure out how each of us can contribute to society and make it a better place for everyone living in it.