Democrazy…Shakhawat Liton

When the Jatiya Sangsad was holding a discussion on September 15 to observe the International Day of Democracy, BNP-led opposition lawmakers were not in the House. The opposition bench could have been completely empty had an independent MP Fazlul Azim not been present during the discussion. Thanks to Azim, the parliament did not suffer a complete absence of opposition.
What were the BNP-led opposition MPs doing on that day? Opposition Leader Khaleda Zia was in Rangpur addressing a public rally organised by her party-led alliance to drum up people’s support for their demand for restoration of a non-partisan election time government.
The day before the parliament went into the current session on September 12, some BNP MPs attempted to discuss with her their joining of the House. As per media reports, she did not show much interest in the discussion. She only said the issue would be discussed on her return from her North Bengal tour. Those who raised the issue did not dare much to continue to pursue her. Their voices remained low. And they accepted the chairperson’s ruling without any further discussion.
So, the BNP-led opposition MPs could not join the discussion styled ‘Strengthening the Voices of Democracy’ as this was the theme of this year’s democracy day.
The result was obvious. It was a one-sided discussion. More than a dozen ruling Awami League-led alliance MPs participated in the discussion which lasted around one and a half hours. The quality of the discussion was not encouraging. The discussion was held after completion of other scheduled business of that day. When the discussion began at around 9:00 o’clock in the night, many MPs and ministers had left the House. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, also the leader of the House, was also absent during the discussion.
Some of the ruling AL MPs including Suranjit Sengupta and Abdul Matin Khasru blasted Khaleda Zia for not joining the parliament on that day. Matin Khasru even termed her absence as contempt of parliament.
The ruling alliance MPs however spoke little about the real state of democracy in the country. They also did not speak about the future course of actions to strengthen the country’s democracy by improving the nagging confrontational culture in politics. They rather chose to blast the opposition leader and reiterated their claim to uphold the constitution to hold the next general elections. They are now determined to uphold the constitutional provision as it serves their purpose of remaining in office during the parliamentary elections. They blasted Khaleda Zia for her demand to restore non-partisan and non-elected caretaker government system.
Hours before they blasted her in parliament, Khaleda Zia in a huge public rally in Rangpur threatened the government with tougher agitations at the end of October if the government fails to realise the opposition’s demand by that time.
So, the situation prevailed in the parliament on September 15 mocked the norms of democracy, especially parliamentary democracy. Everyone including the battling politicians of both AL and BNP knows the parliament is the heart of democracy. But they speak for strengthening the parliament only when they are in power. And they remain confined in only rhetoric. They fail to translate their words into actions. When they are in opposition, they merrily boycott the parliament day after day, month after month, but they do not forget to enjoy all sorts of perks as MPs.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union, the global organisation of national parliaments, has been promoting International Day of Democracy through its member parliaments in 162 countries around the world since 2008. This year numerous parliaments held discussions to observe the day.
The Bangladesh parliament may be unique among them. The way it observed Democracy Day may not be found in other countries.
Earlier, in 2009, the Jatiya Sangsad held a discussion on September 15, 2009 to observe the day without the participation of the BNP-led opposition lawmakers. However, no discussion was held in parliament to mark the day in the last four years.
The theme of the 2009 International Day of Democracy was ‘democracy and political tolerance’. The Jatiya Sangsad held the discussion on that theme amid boycott by the BNP-led opposition MPs.
And the last four years the politics turned more confrontational, deepening the hollow in the democracy Bangladesh has been practicing in the name of democracy. The ruling AL seems to have forgotten its electoral pledges to inculcate decency and tolerance in politics. The situation has worsened. The attack on a joint rally of Communist Party of Bangladesh and Bangladesh Samajtantrik Dal by Bangladesh Chhattra League men in Sylhet on September 15 only few hours before the Jatiya Sangsad observed the International Day of Democracy through the discussion is another glaring example of the worsening political culture.
What was the offence the CPB central president Mujahidul Islam Selim and others committed to for which they came under attack by BCL, associated student front of AL? It was reported that the CPB president just criticised the AL-led government and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for some of the controversial activities of the present government. The BCL men could not tolerate the criticism against their supreme leader Sheikh Hasina. So, they attacked the rally. Before launching the attack, the BCL men even did not think that neither the CPB nor the BSD is a contender for grabbing state power. The AL’s main rival is the BNP. And many BNP leaders and MPs had to face attacks by ruling party men and police. Even some senior BNP leaders had to pass days behind bars in politically motivated cases.
The BCL men committed the latest misdeed in Sylhet thanks to the culture of impunity they have been enjoying since the AL assumed office in January 2009. Many unruly and violent BCL men went unpunished even after committing criminal activities. Their latest action in Sylhet however mocked at the AL-led government claim that they have institutionalised the country’s democracy.
However, the way the two archrival camps AL and BNP have been battling to retain and grab state power in the name of election which is knocking on the door amid huge political uncertainty, only increases the hollowness in our democracy. They are seeking people’s mandate through elections. But people who in real democracy hold all the power have already been held hostage to the political crisis. The politicians might have forgotten that holding elections does not make a democracy. Elections can only give them a means to grab state power. And the political culture exposes how the AL and BNP have been using this means in the name of democracy.