Bangladesh: The Tyranny of the Majority

A disease in democracy has entered Bangladesh’s politics, and unless the root of the disease is addressed, things will remain unstable in the South Asian nation.

Posted on 01/13/15
By Ziaur Rahman | Via Dhaka Tribune
Bangladesh's government shouldn't act as a bully. (Photo by Rajib Dhar, via Dhaka Tribune)
Bangladesh’s government shouldn’t act as a bully. (Photo by Rajib Dhar, via Dhaka Tribune)

The government “of the people, by the people, for the people” has been under attack at regular intervals, every year. Dialogue is often strained, and the country finds itself on the verge of a shutdown. This old saga of disruption, insincerity, and bitter fights on the streets between party aficionados has made international headlines, all to the detriment of our status as a nation.


We continue to show the world that Bangladesh is essentially inhibiting responsible democracy from taking shape here, allowing the world to meddle in our affairs from the outside. We continue to export our shortcomings, and perhaps let others walk all over us, claiming that their installed democracy is the only way out. With great sadness, we notice the stalemate once again between the government and the opposition party, neither budging from their stand.


So, where does this loggerhead situation lead Bangladesh? Our founding father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and the freedom fighters who liberated Bangladesh from the clutches of Pakistani oppressors would perhaps toss restlessly in their graves. Their dreams, along with the dreams of 160 million, hang in the balance, and even our sense of human security is being severely tested – thanks to the unwise and stress-producing childish bickering, bringing the engines of development and growth to a halting stop once again.


In the intense pursuit to hold democracy on a pedestal, we notice that the constitution is being held as so mighty and overbearing that we lose touch with the reality that the constitution is for people, and not the other way around. The constitution is a cherished document that enshrines a system of governance for the proper functioning of a civil democracy.


But, if the constitution is used for partisan lines and changes are enacted due to a brute majority in the parliament, then what is the remedy for the general masses?


The January 5, 2014 election gave us a new government where the then main opposition BNP and its allied parties did not participate, screaming foul in the election process and raising fingers against the alleged evil designs of election-engineering by the AL. During this period, we also noticed many disruptive, destructive, and anti-democratic actions leading up to the election date by the BNP-Jamaat alliance.


The country became hostage to their political whims, and many days of severe street agitation, blockades, deaths, etc ensued, hurting the vital organs of the nation. The angst and destruction that followed raised concerns over whether Bangladesh has the temperament and political acumen to carry on as a civil democracy amongst the world polity.


Our progress as a nation of peace and mutual cooperation was stunted. We bowed in shame in front of the world with fingers pointed at us. The same specter has raised its ugly head, and been once again gripped by the battle of attrition.


The government, led by Prime Minister Skeikh Hasina, is using its coercive power now to manage, sweep, and control all aspirations for a “free and fair election” that had been snatched from the public in the past national election, that the world considered an uncontested one with suspect playing fields.


The controlling of the opposition has escalated in the recent past, and the government is now bent on containing the opposition by wielding the power of the stick through its various machineries. Street demonstrations are instrumental as citizens’ right to voice discontentment against a government, and articles 36-40 of the Constitution of Bangladesh safeguard such rights.


However, chaos and destruction are in no way connected to freedoms of movement, assembly, association, thoughts, conscience, and speech, and should be considered anti-state activities and be subject to punishment.


Democracy is about the freedoms enumerated above, and enshrined as a fundamental right to participate in political engagement. However, the question is: Are we acting in line with these words of wisdom and the current laws, or manufacturing, subverting, and interpreting the laws to our advantage?


The recent state of events clearly shows that we have tried to “lock” democracy by not allowing a political party (let alone the largest party in opposition to the current government) to operate and run its programs, all in the reasoning that violence may result due to their actions on the streets.


We are assuming the worst without giving a fair chance to democracy. We have seen, with a sense of shame and amazement, the lock-down of the former prime minister, Khaleda Zia, at her party office only recently.


In reality, we are experiencing the tyranny of the majority over the minority. Brute majority often throws a spanner in the game of “political negotiations” encouraged by the spirit of invincibility, but history is replete with instances that the power of the masses ultimately rings loud and clear.


Every effort to control and guide democracy by any party has boomeranged in the greater narrative of history, and no regime has continued to last endlessly with the mindset of stopping the voice of the people or a party.


As more energy is dissipated in “managing democracy” through a stick or the barrel of a gun, the greater the possibility for a revolt of the psychological kind – one that you will not notice until the next election day.


It is safe to say that a party with 30-35% popular support cannot be obliterated, and nor is it democratic to try and do so. Trying to walk in that direction will only create disharmony, disruption, and chaos. The common person earning a measly living shall be seriously hurt. Needless to say, all our aspirations of turning Bangladesh into a “Shonar Bangla” will be evaporated.


Therefore, democracy cannot continue to flourish under lock and key, but violence is not the language of a civilized democracy. Without playing blame games, I offer the suggestion that the development of a country has to be done with an “equitable and just system” of governance through meaningful dialogue. If governance is faulty, and has been taken over without providing the opportunity of a participatory election, then a majority of our society remains disenfranchised. Consequently, the power of the public is trampled upon.


These are not good signals for a healthy and breathing democracy. A disease in democracy has entered our politics, and unless the root of the disease is addressed, things will remain unstable, and virulent passion may continue to show its ugly face.


Last but not the least, a gesture of solidarity and unity may be the way to bring lasting peace to Bangladesh, thus giving the government and the opposition a chance to let Bangladesh live in peace.


This article first appeared in Dhaka Tribune, a leading newspaper of Bangladesh. Click here to go to the original. 

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