Peripheral Politics in Bangladesh

09.17.13
Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
World News /17 Sep 2013
09.17.13

Peripheral Politics in Bangladesh

Bangladeshi politicians never cease to confound their fellow-countrymen. On the eve of this year’s Eid al-Fitr festival, residents of Dhaka experienced a somewhat quixotic scenario displayed on the roads. A large portion of Dhaka’s billboards displayed the achievements of Awami League instead of commercials. Success in food security, diplomacy, poverty alleviation, spreading the social safety net, education, digital progress and not to mention, a revamped rule of law were showcased on the billboards throughout Dhaka. Although no one officially claimed responsibility, it was not hard to find out who were behind these billboards. Some leaders from the ruling party, Awami League, later said that it was done to make the opposition aware of the achievements of the government.

The opposition, however, discounted the government’s unprecedented act of self-promotion saying that the “billboard politics” would not make any difference. Indeed, it does not. After all the ads are contradictory when the government speaks of the rule of law and unlawfully invades commercial billboards to promote its own successes. Even the owners of these billboards were not reimbursed.

Putting aside billboard politics, “nameplate politics” is another remarkable feature of Bangladeshi politics. The current government changed the name of nation’s main airport as soon as it acquired power. In response, the main opposition, BNP, called for a nationwide protest to reinstate the previous name. BNP, when in power, named and renamed a number of institutions including health, education and a theme park.

Putting national leaders’ name on either institutions or infrastructures is a common practice across the world. Immortalizing national heroes helps to pass on the history from one generation to other. Alas! Not in Bangladesh.

Over the course of time, Bangladesh cannot find a singular person whom the majority can rely on, revere or seek counsel from. The political mudslinging has also blackened the name of country’s only Nobel Laureate, Muhammad Yunus.

When the rest of world brands him as the vanguard of peace or the microcredit guru or visionary, Bangladeshi politicians have begun to refer to Yunus as a “bloodsucker” and an “opportunist.” Which is why neither Yunus nor anybody else can come forward to mediate between the two key parties over the next general election.

The irony is that the opposition today refuses to partake in the next election for the same reason as the current ruling party did while it was an opposition party – an election under a non-partisan caretaker government. The primary objective of such a governing system is to install a neutral person as head of an advisory council that arranges a free, fair and peaceful election. The last military-backed caretaker government’s tremendous success in introducing a national ID card to combat vote rigging and eventual arrangement of a successful national poll apparently failed to impress Bangladeshi politicians. This is why in mid-2011 the Awami-led coalition government amended the constitution to abolish its caretaker government system. Since then, it has become the bane of Bangladeshi politics.

The opposition parties have reaffirmed its exclusion from an election arranged by a political government where the ruling party has vehemently rejected any possibility of reverting back to a caretaker government. The election scheduled for this year is fast approaching but no consensus has been achieved. Hence, one-on-one talks are a must. This is the ludicrousness of Bangladeshi politicos. To honor the public demand and uphold the constitution, each party is more than willing to talk anywhere, anyplace. But the million-dollar question is who comes first?

It is political intolerance and avarice to retain power that curbs the potential that this South Asian nation has. Bangladesh, in recent years, has minimized poverty, expanded education, and brought women into the political fold and expanded rights across the board. Thanks in no small part to Bangladesh’s private sector and non-governmental organizations Bangladesh has the potential to become a relatively prosperous country. Bangladesh is evidently ahead of the regional superpower, India, on most social indicators. It has been such a great success story that Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has urged India to learn from its neighbor.

Nonetheless, Bangladesh is floundering as it tries to keep pace with economically burgeoning Asia owing to its political instability. However, quality leadership always shines through the darkness to move the country forward. The national assembly is also a place to exercise leadership qualities to make wise decisions. To the chagrin of many, the Bangladeshi house is predominantly occupied in hurling insults at each other. Therefore, it is an imperative for politicians to abandon some of the norms they have been practicing for years. Otherwise the rotten politics will someday create not only a political vacuum but also create a country rife with intolerance and hatred.

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