Less Democracy, More Development: The Sheikh Hasina Govt’s Policy

‘Less democracy, more development’ is the new motto of the Bangladesh’s ruling party, the Awami League.

3 min read
Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina. (Photo: IANS)

Kom Gonotontra, Besi Unnayan” – Less Democracy, More Development – is the new motto of the Bangladesh Awami League, Bangladesh’s ruling party. Led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the party has decided to embrace the path of “soft dictatorship”. This is neither healthy for the citizens of Bangladesh nor for India. At 4096 km, the countries share the fifth-longest border in the world.

Across the country, the party’s workers are rigorously touting the benefits of the new motto, an attempt which appears to be working with the general public.

The common citizen prefers to worry about bettering their standard of living rather than their freedom of speech, expression, or other fundamentals of democracy, which are usually taken for granted unless their absence begins to make life unpleasant.

For the 36 percent of the population that lives below the national poverty line (US $2 a day), the party’s motto is the silver lining in an otherwise difficult existence. The party’s new propaganda is not something that it recently discovered, but a carefully-drafted strategy since the party came to power in 2009– after the rule of a military-led caretaker government.

The first step towards establishing a “soft dictatorship” was taken in 2011. Sheikh Hasina made amendments to the Constitution and abolished the caretaker government system.

Around the same time, the Prime Minister took it a step further by arresting and scheduling trials for the leaders of one of the main opposition parties, Jamat-e-Islami, accused of war crimes during the nation’s Independence Struggle in 1971.

File photo of members of  Jamat-e-Islami at a rally in  2006. (Photo: Reuters)
File photo of members of Jamat-e-Islami at a rally in 2006. (Photo: Reuters)

Since then, several senior leaders of the party have been convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death. This was to ensure that Jamat was wiped off the political canvas and their ideology fractured.

By and large, citizens welcomed the conviction since Jamat leaders had over the years acquired enormous wealth by illegally capturing properties of Hindu families. Jamat is now trying to create a new identity under a different political outfit, focusing on the softer aspects of Islam. They may also bring General Irshad of the Jatiya party under the same banner to create a stronger opposition.

General Irshad took control of the country’s government from 1982-90 when he removed the democratically-elected president, suspended the constitution, and declared martial law.

Hasina has tightened the noose around Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to remove the most significant hurdle to her goal of holding office as long as she lives. The move is also aimed at ensuring that the mantle is passed on to her son Sajeeb Wajed who currently serves as advisor to the Government of Bangladesh on information and communication technology.

The former Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition party, Khaleda Zia, has already been prosecuted in multiple cases related to graft and abuse of authority during her tenure from 2001-2006. If convicted, Zia could be jailed for over 10 years and will be barred from contesting the next general elections in 2019.

Zia, former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, is among the four accused of embezzling funds in the case filed by Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2010. (Photo: AP)
Zia, former Prime Minister of Bangladesh, is among the four accused of embezzling funds in the case filed by Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) in 2010. (Photo: AP)

She has also recently been prosecuted in connection with instigating a deadly petrol bomb attack on a bus last year during an anti-government protest.

Zia’s elder son and the Vice Chairman of BNP, Tariq Rahman, has been living in forced exile in London since 2008. He has also been charged in multiple cases related to corruption and money-laundering. Her younger son, Arafat Rahman Koko, who was also convicted in a money-laundering case, died of a cardiac arrest in Malaysia in 2015. Other local leaders of BNP have also been convicted in various cases or have been assassinated.

Sheikh Hasina seems to be following in her predecessors’ unfortunate footsteps. Whether her new ‘policy’ brings about development remains to be seen, but this much is clear: the path she has chosen is detrimental to democracy and Bangladesh may soon be led by a dictator.

(The author is an independent philosopher. The author can be reached at – signonsameer@hotmail.com)

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