However, sadly the reality in Bangladesh gives us an indication that the politics of Bangladesh is actually bi-polar. Peaceful political dialogue – a must for effective democracy
Tasmiah Nuhiya Ahmed, Executive Editor/ Bangladesh National Section, The New York Times
The Constitution of People’s Republic of Bangladesh in its preamble provides that democracy is it’s one of the fundamental principles. Article 11 of the Constitution provides that the Republic shall be a democracy in which fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed and in which effective participation by the people through their elected representatives in administration at all levels shall be ensured.
Generally, a free and fair election with all-party participation is one of the main prerequisites of a democratic government. In this process, several entities need to play some fundamental roles to ensure that the people can partake and utilize their voting power appropriately to elect their representatives.Elections have to be free, fair and inclusive for the legitimacy of a democratic government. For that, political parties need to play a crucial role in modern representative democracy. Political parties’ main functions in a democratic society include the integration and mobilization of citizens; the articulation and aggregation of interests; the formulation of public policy; the recruitment of political leaders; and the organization of parliament and government (Bartolini and Mair 2001). They have to act as initiators of reform, gather demands from society and turn these into policies, recruit people for executive and legislative positions and exercise control over government. In performing these roles, competition between political parties is inevitable. While contests over power can be bitter, political discussion over reform and development can also lead to fruitful dialogue and agreement between parties. After all, meaningful dialogue allows political parties to arrive at legislative majorities or accommodate important minority views. Dialogue is not a modern invention. Throughout history and in most societies, bringing people together to overcome differences and solve problems has been a particularly prestigious assignment usually given to experienced individuals, elders or people respected for their good judgement and wisdom. Elements of ‘dialogue methodology’ have been and continue to be applied in traditional societies, based on ancestral procedures and customs. Their validity is also recognized in transitional justice, conflict management and reconciliation processes (International IDEA 2008b).
Although cooperation and dialogue usually take place in existing democratic institutions such as national parliaments, in some contexts there is a need for the creation of mechanisms outside of parliament. These dialogue mechanisms offer a complementary, and often confidential, space in which parties can meet as colleagues with alternative interests, as opposed to enemies with whom to compete. Away from the public eye, political parties can more easily overcome conflicts or concerns, and create the preconditions for interparty cooperation.
However, terms with a similar meaning to political party dialogue may include ‘democratic dialogue’, ‘multistakeholder dialogue’, ‘political dialogue’ and ‘inter-party dialogue’. There may be Institutionalized political party dialogue, which refers to a sustained dialogue between political parties from across the political spectrum, not necessarily limited to parliamentary parties, but often focused on issues of common interest to parties as institutions (e.g. multiparty dialogue platforms) or Informal political party dialogue, which refers to any kind of dialogue that takes place between two or more politicians from different political parties held in a non-structured manner. The different types of dialogue mechanisms may have many commonalities in terms of process, procedures, structures or general ‘do’s and don’t’s’ with regard to principles and values such as impartiality or
Back in the year 2014, at a programme on releasing a study on The State of Governance Bangladesh 2013: Democracy Party Politics, organised by the Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) of Brac University, the eminent jurist, Dr. Kamal Hossain, once said that Dialogue is a must as election is not the last word for effective democracy. He further added that holding constructive national dialogue is very essential to resolve the political deadlock. However, he also said that such Dialogues should not only be held between the Awami League and the BNP but also among all the parties. Accepting the basic principles of the constitution, all should sit for talks.
However, sadly the reality in Bangladesh gives us an indication that the politics of Bangladesh is actually bi-polar. The ruling Bangladesh Awami League and the largest opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) hold the two poles of Bangladeshi politics. Several other political parties have tried to push themselves to the frontline as leading political entities, but could not make any headway. Jatiyo Party had some impact on the people in the past which significantly declined with time. AL-led 14-party alliance and BNP-led 20-party alliance include their small allies appear to have only marginal influence on the people of Bangladesh. This leads Bangladesh to be a two-party political entity in reality.
It has been forgotten in our country that multiparty politics is about competition—but, equally important, it is about seeking shared solutions for the benefit of a country and its citizens. Effective and inclusive dialogue between political parties is an essential element of democratic politics. Conflicts, interparty strife and polarized relations between political parties can block a country’s development. On the other hand, a basic level of trust and cooperation between political parties can pave the way for peace, stability and sustainable growth. This holds true in any society, but is all the more critical in countries that are undergoing major shifts. Political dialogue can build trust and the political will for change, both of which are critical in countries on the path to democracy where difficult decisions need to be made. Many young democracies have experienced radical shifts in their political culture and power relations, as well as significant institutional changes. They often have weak legal and political systems, while fundamental reforms are often both much needed and highly contested. This is where dialogue between political parties is essential to avoid zero-sum politics or stasis in situations where reform is much needed. Cooperation between political parties is also vital to ensure that democracy becomes deeply rooted, going beyond electoral competition.
The objective of political dialogue is to achieve practical and peaceful solutions to problems, and, at a deeper level, to address conflict drivers and reconciliation, build a greater national consensus or cohesion, and a shared vision of the future. The assumption is that political dialogue is an essential mechanism for promoting a peaceful democracy. Inclusive political dialogue is, by its nature, a democratic activity. Peaceful political dialogue therefore is an expression of democracy. When properly implemented it also contributes to the promotion of democratic practices by allowing the voices of all sections of society to be heard. Political dialogue is not in opposition to institution building. However, in many cases state institutions are not functioning properly because they have been compromised by political bias, corruption, and inefficiency. The role of political dialogue in such contexts is to strengthen the legitimacy of institutions by building consensus on and trust in their proper functioning. Extraordinary processes of dialogue are at times necessary to achieve this purpose.
With regards to the upcoming Election, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in January 2018 said that the next general election will be held as per the Constitution expressing high optimism that all the parties registered with the Election Commission will take part in it upholding the country’s democratic process. However, during a press briefing at Awami League President Sheikh Hasina’s Dhanmondi political office on 12 January 2018 Awami League General Secretary ObaidulQuader said that he does not see any point in holding dialogues with the BNP regarding their participation in the next general election (Dhaka Tribune, 13 January 2018).
We must understand that the ordinary citizens are hopeful and are looking forward to an election where due process would be followed in each and every step. It should not be left to anyone’s discretion to decide the matter in any case whatsoeverwhere the Constitution itself speaks for establishing an effective democracy in Bangladesh.