For years, the people of Bangladesh have been the casualties of warring political clans, and, unfortunately, 2018 seems to be faring no better than the past.
With the recent court verdict sentencing Begum Khaleda Zia, Bangladesh National Party (BNP) chairperson and party leader, the country once again is bracing itself in fear of violence erupting in the coming days.
Prior to the court verdict on February 8, the Awami League-led government had beefed up security from 6pm on February 7 by mobilizing 43 platoons of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), while an additional 36 remained on standby, alongside an increased police and Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) presence across the nation.
While violence has been kept under control so far, reports indicate the BNP is planning to stage nationwide protests, and this has caused most to remain on edge.
Bangladesh has a long-standing history of bitter political rivalry, specifically between Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, each of whom hail from two of the country’s most prominent political families.
The pair has been battling for power for decades, but it wasn’t always like this.
There was a time in the 80s when the two ladies joined forces to oust General Hussein Muhammad Ershad, a military dictator and founder of Jatiyo Party (JP).
But soon after accomplishing their goals, the ladies turned on each other.
Three decades on, not much has changed. Both party heads till date have been playing a cat-and-mouse game of trying to undermine each other.
Elements from both parties not only have a myriad of corruption, malpractice, and even criminal cases filed against them, but both parties have, at certain points in time, been suspected of orchestrating vote rigging, bribery, kidnappings, and extra-judicial killings, amid an array of criminal activity.
It is indeed very difficult to keep faith in our political process when looking back in history.
The political game today has become one of holding on to power, and not one where the people are served best.
The political game today has become one of holding on to power, and not one where the people are served best
When such facts become apparent, one is forced to ask if a change away from this dynastic democracy is the only option we have left to keep up with the progressing world.
For argument’s sake, picture an alternate reality where BNP was in power today and held the same firm grip and game plan in politics that AL has demonstrated since 2008. In that reality, it would be fair to assume the exact opposite sequence of events would have played out.
In such a case, it would also be fair to assume that, AL instead of BNP, were planning to stage protests and people would still have been in fear of violence ensuing.
When paying close attention to life in Bangladesh, corruption is part of our daily lives. Be it bribing officials to get paperwork processed faster, making sure a basic resume is received by the bosses of big companies, or even in cases where small entrepreneurs have to maintain ties with student politicians in hopes that local thugs will be kept at bay and they will be able to run their businesses smoothly.
The lists of issues are endless to say the least. The state of the country as it is today doesn’t paint a pretty picture, and its dysfunctions become clearer.
Speaking of student politicians, Bangladesh was formed by students, who fought in the war, and subsequently became political leaders.
The difference between then and now is simply that our past student leaders were well-versed and had academic backgrounds in political science, law, medicine, social sciences, and other subjects.
Today, in contrast, student politicians are often found to be in their 40s or 50s.
Most do not have degrees that were legitimately earned, and many are rumoured to have been involved in corrupt activities.
The point is, this dynastic democratic system and its reliance on unqualified student politicians has failed us time and again.
Perhaps it’s high time a more polished approach was tried, and there are options and quite a few at that.
It could boil down to establishing a bicameral system of governance.
Perhaps establishing a new legitimate party regardless of whether they are backed by foreign powers to push agendas, or their political leanings, could work. Such a move might galvanise unregistered voters and rebuild faith in our political system.
We could also try and be truly democratic and start electing party leaders prior to general elections.
The options do exist and there is still time yet.
If we human beings have progressed over the millennia by refining our methods through trial-and-error and adapting to the times, then perhaps re-thinking Bangladesh’s existing political process where there is a system of checks and balances in play may not be a bad idea after all.
So what’s next -- do we keep playing Chinese Whispers till the flame burns out or do we try a different way, be it for better or for worse? You decide.
Fahim Razzaq is a journalist.