A daunting task lies ahead
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has returned to all the benches of the Bangladesh parliament to get to work on an in-tray overflowing with domestic and geo-political concerns following December’s tumultuous national elections.
Amid widespread criticism, the Election Commission has indicated it will investigate the allegations of irregularities and abuse of power, but the commission’s bold course of action is yet to be seen.
While there is no denying that the new government came to power without much resistance from its primary opposition BNP which is crippled by legal crucifixion and bogged with its very own internal political destitution, the next five years for the AL regime will determine the future of the nation. Hence, the tasks are enormous.
The PM has, for now, effectively brought an end to her longest power rival in Bangladesh’s post-martial law history -- she has to work with a brute majority to find solutions to the country’s immediate challenges. Taming the brute majority itself is a critical challenge, as history speaks across the world.
That means, indubitably, Bangladesh’s politics has entered into an existential crisis, marked by Machiavellian politics and alarming income disparity in the country’s booming economy. Finding a meaningful long-term answer to this paradox should be the top-most agenda to reduce the chances of a further rise of the radical right.
After all, last year’s elections delivered a decisive mandate to both major parties which neither the public nor the politicians can unconditionally accept or refute.
To the PM’s credit, the new cabinet has gained column mileage and positive aspiration among the critics. The young cabinet has to deal with a large bucket of interrelated challenges.
The basket includes, but is not limited to, rampant corruption; social and economic disparity; a rattled financial sector; weakened institutions such as justice, education, and health; virtually ineffective urban management; public security; extremism and radicalization; unfathomed sources of narcotics; an unpredictable US president; Indo-China flings for strategic championship; a globally benefitting Myanmar; the stateless Rohingya; an ever-volatile Middle East; and the coming structural reforms in the EU.
Over the coming years, the PM along with her major support base -- the civil administration to be precise -- will have to find a sustainable way to win over the over-enthusiastic religious parties too.
The rapidly evolving global community, many of whom believe the government is yet to go a long way to fix the democratic institutions and human rights concerns, could well be holding the keys to access markets.
Hence, no time for finding solace in this astronomical electoral victory.
The task, then, should kick off by putting faith on meritorious bureaucrats, advisers, and politicians capable of dealing with new challenges.The time for “business as usual” is over after the election, and so is the usefulness of sycophancy.
The wisdom that should be remembered is: Sycophancy and merit are not synonymous, and cannot go hand in hand. Political trumpet-bearers sipping expensive coffee in uptown Dhaka or busy finding sources to milk cashcows are no longer usable substitutes.
Be mindful of the difference between political blithering and development communication.
That inevitably calls for constant introspection for the party itself.
Neither Singapore nor Malaysia benefitted from sycophancy; they valued merit over prejudice.
The comforting narrative of “everything is under control” should be consistently put to the test by ensuring legitimate freedom for the media to call a spade a spade. If you know your weakness, you can heal it better.
Would anyone deny that freedom guarantees sanity and nationalism?
A stifled media has a vast social toll too. The rumour business and the myth-feeding propaganda services profit the best out of it.
However, society has changed. Society is shifting to alternative media for information not only because of the appeal of intuitive technology, but due to a pool of sub-par media optics.
What matters is not the number of media outlets but the quality of their content.
Another daunting task is to address the widespread arrogant culture of impunity. The ruling party, the PM, and the mechanical ability to blame “political others” have long been presented as the traditional sources of impunity.
Politically speaking, it puts any political party on the offensive every time as it would require responding to negative perceptions. Denial becomes a weapon, in that case.
The PM’s advisers should stress on developing a communication strategy and report cards for the cabinet members and the party members. Hence, the very confident PM should not hesitate in undertaking stark decisions against her aides over any allegation of moral turpitude.
Therefore, zero tolerance against impunity syndrome, not an iron grip on the democratic institutions, should be the focus of the cabinet to win the hearts of millions.
Alternatively, a silent radical vacuum awaits. The cost of which will be astronomical as well.
Shahab Khan is Professor, Department of International Relations, Jahangirnagar University.