BANGLADESH: THE PATH TO DEMOCRACY, 1991-2009
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CONTROVERSY AND PUBLIC OPINION

ANTI-CORRUPTION DRIVE:

In January, 2007 a nationwide emergency was called to overcome the dire political situation prevailing in Bangladesh at the time. The elections which were supposed to be held in January were postponed and the military backed government promised to cleanse Bangladesh of the corruption that had seeped into each and every sector of the society. One by one, leaders who were perceived to be ‘The Untouchables’ and ‘Kings’ and ‘Queens’ were arrested. At the fag end of BNP’s rule, the people had become frustrated. They needed a change, but little did they know about the complexities that were associated with such a change. The most controversial and talked about topic in 2007 and the years to follow was the arrest of the two political leaders, Shiekh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia. This came as a complete shock to many who could imagine former heads of state to be locked up and subjected to such a high degree of public humiliation. In fact, the caretaker’s governments initial intention from what could be perceived was to completely rid the nation of the two ‘wicked witches’ and bring to light a fresh face, with fresh ideas, who will guide the country towards peace and prosperity. Much to their dismay, I believe, their plan did not work out as the public pressure to bring the leaders back was too much. By 2008, the charges on which the two leaders were charged were dropped and they were allowed to run for election.

Another high profile arrest was that of Tarique Rahman, son of former Prime Minister, Begum Khaleda Zia and former President General Ziaur Rahman. Tarique Rahman, who was a Senior Joint Secretary of BNP had gained popularity by 2001 and had decided to play a large and active role in the party. At the time he was made Senior Joint Secretary interested in creating a modern Bangladesh, getting the youth involved in the political sphere and as well as working towards promoting the industries specifically the textile industry and the ICT sector. No one can argue that Tarique Rahman had gained tremendous support from the people and was indeed a charming leader, however the underlying story can be explained by a quote by  John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton’s, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”Public opinion was that Tariq Rahman let all the power get to his head and had become nepotistic. Because of his arrogance, condescending attitude and ostentatious nature, he had received titles such the ‘The Crown Price’ and ‘The Godfather.’ His arrest was considered to be the most appropriate punishment for his unforgivable actions. However, no matter what a person has done, according to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, even an individual arrested on corruption and extortion charge possesses rights. This was urgently called to question when rumors about Tariq Zia being tortured began to get circulated. Through the media, people began to learn that his backbones were crushed and he was in grave condition. Although the decision about his arrest had been accepted, all of his supporters and even many non-supporters believed that the actions of the caretaker government regarding Tarique Zia’s case were unjustifiable and unacceptable. By the end of 2008, Tarique Zia had received bail and he and his family left for the UK where he was to receive treatment.

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HISTORY REPEATS ITSELF:

It is true that Bangladesh needed some form of enforcement but what are the consequences of having a military backed caretaker government for two years, Between 2006 and 2008, many NGOs, consulates, activists and individuals felt that a diversion from democracy may be more detrimental than it comes off as and the path back to democracy may be difficult to reach. With growing concerns, the army backed government which had invaded the hot seat with great success began to lose the support of the people. They began to fear that we had flashbacked to the 1970s and 1980s when democracy was only a vision but not a reality. However, the military backed caretaker government continuously reassured the citizens that they were not here to stay but were instead ‘the knights in shining armor!’ and only wished to save the citizens from a crumbing society. Finally, they did manage to hold a peaceful and transparent and fair election at the end of 2008 but the extent to which they were successful in their anti-corruption drive is up for question.

WAR CRIMINALS AND THE ISLAMISTS:

In the last two years, the citizens of Bangladesh became very patriotic and began to remind each other about the Liberation War of 1971 and the purpose of the war. Jamaat-E-Islami, one of the coalition partners of the BNP 4 Party Alliance became the target for numerous insults and accusations. Under Nizami’s (the leader of the Jamaat-E-Islami party) leadership, the al-Badr (para-militia) force was organized with a scheme of making Bangladesh a nation scarce of intellectuals. Al-Badr is accused of murders, rapes and arson attacks. Therefore, BNP lost considerable support and popularity when it decided to go forth with its 4 Party Alliance in the 2008 Election. Nizami and his party have been titles as war criminals and the citizens of Bangladesh are opposed to being ruled by extremist war criminals. In this election AL and Shiekh Hasina bluntly proposed to bring the war criminals to justice and prevent them from receiving any power which was, in  my opinion a card well played.

NATION BUILDERS OF TOMORROW:

In the last election, the main focus of the political parties was to attract the new voters. With the new National Identification Cards, a large number of young voters were registered to vote for the very first time. In this day and age, where ICT plays such a dominant role in every field, AL has dedicated its “Vision 2021” to the young generation and has pledged to present a digital Bangladesh to them by 2021 while BNP has planned to take on a modern approach and promised a bright and successful future for the nation builders of tomorrow. With an increased and urgent need to work towards global issues, individuals are becoming more aware and in Bangladesh specifically, where one in three voters is a new voter, the young generation is really interested in achieving a politically stable nation. They are committed to fulfilling the dreams of the freedom fighters in order to create a prosperous and progressive nation for future generations.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS:
The citizens of Bangladesh want to see a democratic and egalitarian nation rid of poverty and corruption. We believe that political parties need to reform and self-criticize in order to achieve the goals of the nation. Politicians also need to self-reflect and pledge to rectify their past mistakes. Politicians need to understand what politics entails. When one enters politics, he must be aware of the sacrifices he needs to make and put the people first. They need to work towards the welfare of the poverty stricken millions even within the severe constraints and improve their standards of living. The citizens do not want to see rivalry getting in the way of leadership and want an end to the obstructions of political stability such as Parliament boycotts, strikes, called ‘hartals’ in Bengali and violent protests. We must remember that the greatest asset of Bangladesh is the people and if we train the human capital, it can bring growth and development.