Dr Rounaq Jahan’s book “Political Parties in Bangladesh” reviewed, published in The Daily Star on Monday, 24 August 2015.

Political Parties in Bangladesh: Challenges of Demcratization, Author: Rounaq Jahan

Reviewed by Dr. Al Masud Hasanuzzaman

The book Political Parties in Bangladesh Challenges of Democratization written by Professor Dr. Rounaq Jahan and published by the Prothoma Prokashon is indeed a timely endeavor. 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. However, there is scant research works on parties along with a lack of appropriate methodical analysis and investigation. The book under review is a praiseworthy attempt to fill this void for which Professor Jahan deserves our special appreciations.

The book is organized into six broad chapters. The introductory section deals with theoretical explanations of political parties and political development followed by a detail description of the nature of party systems under different regimes of three distinct phases since independence of Bangladesh. From 1972 through 1975, from a one party dominance to single party rule, during 1975 – 1990, party building under state sponsorship by politically ambitious military rulers, and from 1991 until present, a system of burgeoning two party managed politics characterized by conflicting political scenario. The subsequent analyses cover: major traits of political parties including ideology, organizational structure, leadership, support base, factionalism and intra-party democratic practice involving democratic policy process, leadership, candidate selection, representation, funding,  party-persuaded violence and affairs of party politics at the local levels. The concluding section furnishes key findings of the study and remedial measures.

In modern states the inevitable roles of political parties in practicing and building democracy can hardly be over emphasized. Both in political and governmental processes the omnipresence of political parties is greatly visible through their participation in electoral politics, national representative institutions and state organs. In a democratic political system, political parties work as tools for exercising political power. It is through their activism political parties influence the lives of the citizens and in the process they appear as guide and change agent of the people to set value goals for the society by preserving normative relationships.  As such political party building as institutions is extremely significant for the overall socio-political development and for ensuring proper role-playing human organizations.

Because of the extended role and wide ranging effects of parties, democracy is explained positively by scholars as ‘partycracy’. However, partycracy can also signify pessimism in the context of the parties’ unremitting command, manipulation, and monopoly over the affairs of representation and governance and the mass of the people keep on just as quiet or silent watchers.

The concept of political party and party system has been western. The origin and perspectives of party formation in western liberal democracies are quite different compared to the history and growth of parties in developing countries like ours. As such in the studies and research on such parties, full application of western approaches may not be fairly compatible. Therefore the concepts of European traditional party mode, Maurice Duverger’s mass-base party or Karsheimer’s catch-all-party may not blend in their entire forms in our contexts. The multidimensional challenges, crises, and problems that remain in the transitional phase of the developing societies need to be considered in course of their party research. The issues of sociology of political parties and country specific perspectives hence are significant in the process.

However, there is uniformity in the theoretical performances of political parties throughout the world. Accordingly the common party functions have been political socialization, interest articulation, interest aggregation and political communication. It is indeed the functions that are imperative for ensuring democratic governance depend on the efficacy of party system and parties. The emphasis is thus placed on the institutionalization of parties and positive correlation between political system and party system. In fact the successful roles of parties in the political process, parties in government and in opposition, and the constructive relations between parties and electorate contribute to transform parties from a mere organization to the height of institutionalization.

The issues that come under the investigation of party performance include-the extent of the roots of parties within the society, the implementation of party ideology and programs, an analysis of party leadership, organizational structure, integration, as well as the two-way relations between party and the masses, party and civil society and the role process according to party constitution and manifesto.

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 our party formation and functions include personality centered party pattern, weaknesses in performing political input tasks, consider elections as the ultimate goal of democracy, post poll mass-distancing, structural erosion and factionalism, clientele politics and patron-client ties, intra party conflicts and parochialism all that prevent parties from developing into rational organizations. Owing to ineffective parliamentary structures, coercive attitude of the authority, opposition only for the sake of opposition, mutual intolerance, and the like, detrimental consequences prevail in the political process. Against public interests, sustained boycott of the House and nonstop hartals are called for the concerned party interests that often lead to violence and anarchical situation severely threatening human security. All these affairs are greatly irreconcilable with a functional party system.

Rounaq 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; criminalization of politics; ascription instead of achievement motivation in party structures; 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 commercialization; centralized decision process; and non-transparent political finance.

Against the backdrop of negative consequences of ‘partycracy’ there arise 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 under review 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 analyzed with proper theoretical explanations, illustrations, elucidations, information and examples. Nonetheless, there are limits in obtaining primary information and data from the parties as the    author rightly says in the preface of her book. For the purpose of investigation four mainstream parties namely the Awami League, BNP, Jatiya Party and Jamat have been selected. It can however be mentioned that for the sake of a more representative research the author could have included at least one left 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. In 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 analyzed from different dimensions but a simultaneous discussion on inter-party ties responsible for the problems of democratization also remains imperative.

Professor Rounaq Jahan in her book precisely examines the growth of our 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 emphasizes on abandoning the parties’ undemocratic behavior 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 organization and the government’, instead of promoting corporate business interests, detailed policy programs for the majority marginalized 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. We are definitely thankful to her for such a commendable academic piece of work. Indeed all her articles, monographs, and books are considered as valuable academic resources for our social and political science disciplines. The book under review is a required reading for all concerned.

The reviewer is Professor of Government and Politics, Jahangirnagar University



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