The choice is clear

Posted in Uncategorized by jrahman on December 29, 2018

K Anis Ahmed’s New York Times op ed is half-right, and therefore is all wrong. Bangladesh indeed does face a choice, and on one side stands authoritarianism.  The other side, however, is not extremism as he alleges.  On 30 Dec, Bangladesh faces a choice between continuing a brutal authoritarianism and the beginning of liberal democracy.  This blog stands for liberal democracy, and urges all its readers who are eligible to do so to go out and vote for Jatiya Oikya Front.

Mr Ahmed claims that Bangladesh’s choice is between authoritarianism and extremism.  It is commendable that he discloses his personal connection with the ruling Awami League, and owns up to the authoritarian nature of the government.  Ahmed is right — Bangladesh has indeed been a de facto one party state since 2013, with every single state institution, from the central bank to the police to the courts, having been suborned to the ruling party and media being brought under complete partisan control through draconian laws.

It is interesting that the author did not try to justify the authoritarianism by pointing to the economy, though he does mention 7% annual economic growth rate.  Bangladesh has indeed been an economic success story.  And five years ago, the AL regime did try to sell the development record.  It’s instructive that this is no longer peddled.  There might be at least couple of reasons for not touting the economic record.

First, Bangladesh’s development success started back in the late 1970s, when the country’s vast pool of labour was brought into the world economy through the establishment of ready made garments industry and the beginning of migration to the Gulf.  These reflected policies initiated by the government of Ziaur Rahman and continued by every government since.

Second, the results of the economic success is increasingly being captured by the cronies of the current regime.  The country needs, and can afford, mega infrastructure projects.  And yet, crony capitalism means it costs $7 million to build a kilometre of road in Bangladesh when in India or China it takes about $1.1-1.6 million.  The Padma bridge will likely cost three times as much as initial estimates.  Mr Ahmed doesn’t mention these, but says that the current government has tripled electricity generation.  What he doesn’t say is that the increased electricity production is heavily subsidised by taxpayers, the producers are regime-connected businessmen, and any scrutiny of the sector is prohibited by law.  And all this while the country’s banking system falls into shambles, with non-performing loans reaching levels seen in Thailand before the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997.

Had the government been confident about its economic record, this election might have been a choice between growth and governance, or democracy and development.  But the regime’s apologists like Mr Ahmed know that claims of economic success would ring hollow.

No wonder then that the regime is not trying to run on the economy.  Indeed, what has been happening in Bangladesh is hardly an electoral contest.  To date, more than 10,000 opposition activists have been arrested and half the opposition candidates have been physically assaulted.  Anis Ahmed grossly distorts the ground reality of Bangladesh when he says skirmishes have broken out between the two sides during the campaign.

And the misrepresentation continues when apologists like him claims that alternative to the Awami authoritarianism is extremism.  Contrary to the regime’s propaganda, Islamist militancy has, in fact, risen under the decade of Awami rule.  After all, the ISIS inspired terrorist attack, the worst in the history of Bangladesh, took place under the Awami authoritarianism.  A number of random attack and murder of western civilians, another new low for Bangladesh, began during this regime. During the same period, secular bloggersgay peopleactivists, publishers came under ISIS style fatal attacks.  Clearly, AL has failed to check extremism.  Why do they then deserve another chance?

Of course, Bangladesh did experience Islamist violence in the mid-2000s.  But back then, such extremists were nabbed and tried with full transparency. During the current regime, there hasn’t been any transparent trial of any suspect, as both suspects and witnesses are going missing forever!

This underscores the point that liberal democracy, not authoritarianism, is the best tool to combat extremism.  And BNP represents not extremism, but liberal democracy.

In this election, BNP is a part of a broad coalition under the aegis of Dr Kamal Hossain, a bona fide secular democrat.  The Jatiya Oikya Front manifesto spells out concrete steps through which it will initiate liberal democratic practices.  The deputy speakership of the parliament will be given to the opposition.  The opposition will also lead key parliamentary committees to hold the executive branch of the government to account.  Law enforcement agencies will be reformed, and gag acts will be repelled.  Through an inclusive mechanism, the constitution will be amended to prevent future authoritarianism.

Bangladesh does indeed face a choice, between a brutal authoritarianism and liberal democracy.  Awami authoritarians are doing their utmost to prevent that choice.  Only way to stop them is to vote dhaner sheesh on 30 December.

(Co-written with Rumi Ahmed.  Abridged versions were sent to NYT as letters to the editor).

One Response

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Iqbal said, on January 1, 2019 at 12:46 am

    What is the BNP’s position toward renewing their electoral alliance with Jamaat I Islami?

    Why does the BNP do alliances with a party that killed and raped Bengalis in alliance with a occupation force in 1971? Political expediancy? The only way to rehabilitate them is for their leadership to apologise, expel war criminals from the party and follow a type of Islam followed by ordinary Bangladeshis and not Saudi import of Wahhabism.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: