The research findings of Professor Jahan remain very significant in order to precisely explicate the political dynamics of Bangladesh more comprehensively.
Review of the book “Political Parties in Bangladesh Challenges of Democratization” authored by Dr Rounaq Jahan published in DAWN on Wednesday, 2 September 2015.
Book throws insightful light on the political system of Bangladesh
Dr Al Masud Hasanuzzaman
The book Political Parties in Bangladesh Challenges of Democratization by Dr Rounaq Jahan is a timely endeavour. Since recent times the politics of this country is characterized by politics of crisis and the crux of such predicament stems from malfunctioning of party politics and more specifically inter-party conflicts and confrontations. As such comprehensive and in-depth research on political parties in Bangladesh is deeply significant.
Theoretically Bangladesh conceives the principles of pluralism, democracy and a functional multi-party system. There are, however, gaps between theory and its practice. The trends that persist in Bangladeshi political party formation and functions include personality-centered party pattern, weaknesses in performing political input tasks, considering elections as the ultimate goal of democracy, structural erosion and factionalism, clientele politics and patron-client ties, intra-party conflicts and parochialism all that prevent parties from developing into rational organisations.
Owing to ineffective parliamentary structures, coercive attitude of the authority, opposition only for the sake of opposition and mutual intolerance detrimental consequences prevail in the political process. Against public interests, sustained boycott of the House and non-stop hartals often lead to violence and anarchy severely threatening human security. All these are greatly irreconcilable with a functional party system.
Ms Jahan’s research highlights the following trends: practice of politics under the influence of two major parties and political alliances since 1990; limitations of internal democracy within parties; criminalisation of politics; consolidation of authoritative control of the party chiefs; involvement of non-political elements in electoral politics; continued dominance of the business interests in politics and commercialisation; centralised decision process; and non-transparent political finance.
Against the backdrop of negative consequences of ‘partycracy’ there arises the matter of demanding party responsiveness and accountability. In recent times in the developing world greater emphasis is given on party responsibility functioning through legal binding and introducing structural reforms. In this regard various legal measures have also been taken in Bangladesh and one important stride is reforming the Representation of People’s Order or RPO. Its major features include compulsory registration of political parties with the Election Commission, formulation of democratic constitution, declaration of income and expenditures, submission of statement of audited accounts and transparency in party funding. Nevertheless until now the proper application of RPO procedures have not been visible.
In the book the major issues of structural set up of the major political parties in Bangladesh, their leadership selection, decision-making process, electoral campaigning and funding, nomination procedure, candidate selection, representation of women and marginal social groups, and yearly financial matters as per the RPO have been scholarly analysed. For the purpose of investigation four mainstream parties namely the Awami League, Bangladesh Nationalist Party, Jatiya Party and Jamaat-i-Islami have been selected. For the sake of a more representative research the author could have included at least one left-wing party actively involved in the country’s politics.
It is mentionable that both facets of intra- and inter-party relations within the party-system intensely influence the practice of politics and democracy. When political power becomes the sole determinant of socio-economic and political processes then control and competition for such power tend to be vicious and violent in nature. Under the Bangladesh perspective where there is a lack of consensus on state fundamentals and electoral democracy, hostility and unconstitutional methods are recurrently followed as exemplified by recent inter-party fierce relations. In the book intra-party affairs are analysed from different dimensions but a simultaneous discussion on inter-party ties responsible for the problems of democratisation also remains imperative.
Ms Jahan precisely examines the growth of the Bangladeshi party system over the last 43 years underscoring in detail the challenges of democratic consolidation. Although pro-democratic movements in this country are led by political parties, prevailing corrosion and erosion in party structures create hindrances towards establishing good governance. As the prime intent of the contending parties is to control state power, increasing their support-bases by distributing patronages gets more importance even at the cost of party ideology and guidelines. Deadly competition for state resources strengthens patron-client bond, corruption and belligerent practices that severely hamper traditional party performances.
For democratic renovation the author emphasises on abandoning the parties’ undemocratic behaviour and giving up a culture of parliament boycott. Other major suggestions contain ‘all parties ruling as well as opposition, need to stop using violence to settle inter-party and intra-party conflicts’, ‘ an urgent need to separate the party organisation and the government’, instead of promoting corporate business interests, detailed policy programmes for the majority marginalised sections need to be chalked out and above all ensure internal democracy within parties.
Finally it can be said that in order to precisely explicate the political dynamics of Bangladesh more comprehensive and follow up in-depth party research are imperative. In this respect the research findings of Professor Jahan highlighted above remain very significant.
—By arrangement with Daily Star-Asia News Network
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2015