Bangladesh in Transition Emily Drew Introduction On February 3, 2001, half a million Bangladeshi citizens gathered in Dhaka to participate in a social movement that demonstrated against human rights abuses, economic injustice, and political corruption. At “The Peoples’ Grand Rally,” the United Citizen’s Movement (UCM) presented a 10-point declaration that demanded “strengthening democracy, ensuring good governance and free election, fighting communalism and corruption, empowering women, …and resisting the enemies of independence.”i The rally also spoke out against corrupt state-business relations. “True [economic] development is not possible without fair politics,” said Dr. Qazi Faruque Ahmed, the Secretary General of UCM.ii He derided those opposed to liberal democracy, especially those in favor of military rule, and stressed that they “must be resisted in every ward, village, and town of the country.”iii Changes in local political culture, he noted, would be imperative in developing citizens’ political expectations for reforming national politics. The rally embodied free speech and the right to assemble. Speakers recognized the importance of protecting human rights, and practicing free and fair elections and economics. In 2001, Bangladesh seemed to be moving toward democratic consolidation, as a democratic political culture spread along with economic reforms and increased bureaucratic transparency. Organizations like the United Citizen’s Movement were gaining influence and membership; foreign direct investment increased; and women became more involved with grassroots organizations, and continued to gain financial independence through Bangladesh’s micro-loan programs. By 2002, however, Freedom House declared Bangladesh “Not Free” for the first time since 1975-1976.iv Largely due to press harassment, increased human rights violations, and loss of transparency, this downgrade proves that Bangladesh is not able to maintain its democratic structure and ideas in order to move toward consolidation.v Once again, the government is failing to satisfy the needs and wants of its people. Additionally, since the bureaucracy, political parties, and electoral systems are noticeably corrupt at all levels, Bangladesh citizens are growing dissatisfied with their government. They realize that it does not practice the democratic principles that it claims to uphold. They want free and fair elections, civil rights, economic opportunity, and transparency. This paper will investigate the concepts of democratization and consolidation, and it will explore some specific cases that have prevented democratic consolidation during Bangladesh’s history as an independent state. Why, despite the population’s strong support for democratic principles, does the government continually backslide after gaining any democratic footing? This paper will examine current indications of democratic consolidation in Bangladesh, and it will look at the discrepancies between formal and informal actions of the state. Defining Democracy Between gaining independence from East Pakistan on December 16, 1971, and pressuring General H. M. Ershad from the presidency in 1990, citizens of Bangladesh participated in five parliamentary elections, three presidential elections, and three referendums.vi However, in “Democracy in Bangladesh: Illusion or Reality,” Murshid argues that these ballots “were not aimed to foster the democratic process,” but were rather exercises aimed “to seek credibility, confirm constitutional changes or provide mechanisms by which to legitimize the
2 civil-military bureaucracy” that continually claimed control from any civil bureaucracy that attempted development.vii Ershad, for example, embodied a militant legacy left by the Pakistan army. He distrusted civilian rule, believed the army deserved a constitutional role in government, and held little civilian support. Ershad gained his presidential power through both the 1986 and 1988 elections, which were...
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