The conviction of former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia has sent a lot of people into panic mode, bringing forth claims of “the death of democracy” in Bangladesh, a claim that makes little sense as our young nation has never really experienced democracy since its birth.
The first proper election that our country experienced was in 1991, 20 years after our independence, and this illusion of fair and free elections only lasted until 2006, before a self righteous military junta intervened to put an end to what little freedom there was.
Terming democracy as an unachievable ideal, blaming it for corruption and all that is wrong with this world, and finally, celebrating its extinction is irrational, if not outright suicidal for society as a whole.
Democracy can be best defined by quoting Abraham Lincoln as a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”
In a democratic society, majority rule must be coupled with guarantees of individual human rights that, in turn, serve to protect the rights of minorities -- whether ethnic, religious, or political, or simply the losers in the debate over a piece of controversial legislation.
The rights of minorities do not depend upon the goodwill of the majority and cannot be eliminated by majority vote. The rights of minorities are protected because democratic laws and institutions protect the rights of all citizens.
This idea of democracy does not only sound good on paper, but has also been proven to work time and again despite criticisms from those who misunderstand its true meaning, often jumping to conclusions and false claims, while deliberately ignoring the failures of their own alternative ideologies.
Many people try to point out the errors of democracy by often using the examples of countries like Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan. What these people forget or neglect to mention while posting “before and after” pictures of these countries captioned “before and after Western democracy,” is that the pictures are taken right after a highly destructive war.
Moreover, these countries never had a phase of democracy after the wars were over. The ousting of one tyrannical leader immediately led to the rise of terrorist groups that deserve the blame of post-war destruction, not democracy.
Call for fair elections and freedom did not destroy Libya or Iraq -- IS did. Calls for democracy did not destroy Afghanistan -- the Taliban did.
It is also no coincidence that the far richer and militarily superior nations that destroyed these countries are democracies themselves. Neither is it a surprise that most democracies also tend to be the safest and most liberal countries. All the countries that rank high in the Global Peace Index have democratically elected governments.
For true change, we do not need a revolution. We need democracy, in its most libertarian form
The question of corruption and fundamentalism
While the imprisonment of Khaleda Zia may have worried a lot of people, the fact remains that the BNP has always been notoriously corrupt. The timing of the conviction may have been a political move, but the verdict is not surprising at all.
Khaleda Zia should not be allowed to walk free just because she is a former prime minister.
However, this does not mean the ruling party is much better. The fear of the BNP and their extremist allies is not irrational, but the alternative is not very different.
Let us not forget, that it is under this government that pedophilia was essentially legalized to please the far right fundamentalists.
The forcible wedding of a rape victim to her rapist has been facilitated by the somewhat ironically named Child Marriage Restraint Act, approved by an ostensibly secular and progressive government with zero apparent concern for the well-being of children.
Ranking 145th in the Corruption Perception Index, though perhaps better than in years past, is not a strong advertisement for the ruling party, either.
Progress under one-party rule
Before making bold claims about the progress and economic development that can happen under one-party rule, people must realize that Bangladesh does not have a particularly good track record in this regard.
Bangladesh is not China. Our culture is not based on meritocracy.
On the contrary, the whole nation is run by the principles of nepotism and favoritism. A one-party system would be devastating for the country, and what little economic progress would come of this will be negligible.
What Bangladesh needs at this stage is not some proletariat revolution or a bloody movement.
For true change, we do not need a revolution. We need democracy, in its most libertarian form.
Inspiration can be drawn from the already successful democratic nations, such as the Swiss “direct democracy” -- where the ordinary people truly have a say in the decisions taken by the government.
False hopes of prosperity under one ultra powerful government never did anyone any good. History has taught us to believe otherwise.
SM Abrar Aowsaf is a freelance contributor.