Showing up

Posted in elections, politics by jrahman on December 27, 2018

Is there a proper Bangla term for Monday morning quarterback.  There sure ought to be.  After all, we all know many of them in real life — that chacha who confidently opines about the mistakes of everyone on everything from cricket to quantum physics, or that khala who has the told-you-so ready for every occasion.  In the first couple of weeks of 2014, Deshi cyberspace was full of such so-called expert opinions on how BNP should have participated in, and won, that winter’s election.  As Awami League blatantly rigs next week’s election, there will probably be a chorus explaining how BNP got it wrong by participating when clearly a boycott was the better option.

Now, I don’t presume to lecture veteran politicians on how to do politics any more than I can tell a doctor how to diagnose illness or prescribe medicine.  There can, of course, be analysis of what happened, might have happened, should have happened, and what will probably happen.  To the extent that some of this is, well, Monday morning (or five seasons later) quarterbacking — I beg your indulgence.

This might come as a surprise to many that up until the 1980s, election boycott was relatively rare in Bangladesh.


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A theory of andolon

Posted in democracy, politics by jrahman on October 13, 2015

Historically, most street movements, andolons, launched by the opposition party failed to achieve the stated objective.  And yet, politicians ranging from Tofail Ahmed to Salahuddin Quader Chowdhury have, while in opposition, advised their respective parties to persist with street protests.  Why?

Drawing on the work of Bert Suykens and Aynul Islam of Belgium’s Ghent University, we can tell a reasonably coherent story with a possibly scary implication.


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Something for everyone

Posted in democracy, elections, left, politics by jrahman on April 25, 2015

Voters of Dhaka and Chittagong are supposed to exercise their democratic right on 28 April.  These elections are hardly going to change the political status quo that is Mrs Wajed’s one-person rule over Bangladesh.  And yet, there is something for everyone in these elections.

In Dhaka North — where yours truly spent a part of his life — there really is a choice.  Towards the end of this post, you will find the preference of this blog.


Scenario analysis

Posted in army, democracy, politics by jrahman on March 18, 2015

Forecasting is a bit like urinating against the wind, you feel the heat, while everyone else laughs at your expense.  Okay, that’s not my original.  I heard it from a former boss, who, being an Antipodean, used to express it in rather more colourful terms.  But anyone involved in any kind of forecasting will tell you that it’s a mug’s game.  Scenario analysis, however, is not forecasting.  Rather than saying X will happen, scenario analysis is about what if X happens.

I have no idea what will happen in Bangladesh.  Anyone who tells you that they know what will happen in Bangladesh is either pushing an agenda, or is delusional, or both.  However, it is possible to make an informed commentary on plausible scenarios.  And it’s even easier to comment on scenarios laid out by someone else.  Fortunately for me, Arild Engelsen Ruud has already described five possible scenarios for Bangladesh.  Over the fold is my take on these.


A way out of this mess

Posted in democracy, politics by jrahman on February 3, 2015

Guest post by Tacit.  First posted at Rumi Ahmed’s.

The current political problem in Bangladesh is primarily one of imagination. Obviously, neither Khaleda Zia nor Sheikh Hasina will accept an option that is total defeat for them. However, a study of the priority of the two leaders may allow us to glimpse what s solution to the current, bloody impasse may look like.

If Sheikh Hasina currently allows an election, she will lose. She will hand over the government to BNP for the next five years. She will certainly face many uncomfortable cases and inquiries about the BDR massacre, the Padma Bridge controversy, the atrocities committed by RAB in the days leading to and the aftermath of the 2014 election, the Share Market scam, and so forth. Moreover, given the age of both these individuals, it is highly likely that this would be the last time they would face off. Hasina understandably does not want to end with a defeat.

On the other hand, even if hypothetically an election were to take place tomorrow, and BNP was to win the expected 250+ seats, it would very quickly find itself in a world of hurt. BNP has always been composed of two wings: the governance wing and the AL-lite wing. Ever since 2006, the governance wing has been badly worn down. The Chairperson’s faith in Rafiqul Islam Mian, Jamiruddin Sircar, M K Anwar, et al isn’t what it used to be. And there are too few Shamsher Mobin Chowdhurys and Salahuddin/Sabihuddin Ahmeds to fill the void. This is understandable, because BNP has now been in continuous war footing for the 9th year running. If we take Ershad’s ascension as the formal start of his dalliance with Awami League, then this is the longest stretch that a party has been in the role of the “Opposition”, faced with the full brunt of state savagery. It’ll take a while to reset from this to governance mode.


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Gone politics

Posted in democracy, politics by jrahman on January 5, 2015

Present is like Rome — all roads lead to it.  Wherever we find ourselves today, we look back and think of many reasons that brought us here.  A year ago today, we ended the ‘compact of co-existence that was forged between the AL and BNP at the end of the 1980s, and that has provided the pattern for the past quarter century of political life’.  I am quoting Zafar Sobhan:

As far as the AL is now concerned, the BNP is a party founded in the cantonment, by the man they hold responsible for the massacre of August 15, by the party that rehabilitated the war criminals, and is nothing more than a rag-tag assembly of opportunists, criminals, and killers that created political space for itself at the point of a gun. It represents only those Bangladeshis who are enemies of the state. There can be no compromise with such a party, no accommodation, no peaceful co-existence. After the grenade attack of August 21, 2004, the AL has come to the conclusion: It is us or them. There is no space in Bangladesh for both the AL and the BNP. The AL plan for the coming year is therefore straightforward: Continue to squeeze the life out of the BNP.

Maybe the partisan minds made this inevitable.  Maybe not.  Maybe the institutional set ups of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh made such an outcome quite likely, with events and contingencies doing the rest.  And maybe what actually happened a year ago today was the beginning of the end of politics in that republic.  Maybe politics as we have known it simply won’t do.  Maybe the only way out of this is to begin anew.  Let me quote Zafar from February 2014:

The simple truth is that the current system we have in place is incapable of delivering to us a workable political solution that is competent to address the needs of the country.

Our single constituency, first-past-the-post electoral system, that delivers all power to the winner, fails to keep any kind of a check and balance on our elected representatives, and cannot ensure any kind of separation of powers so that independent branches of the government can actually operate independently, has reached the limits of what it can deliver.

Let’s take this one step at a time.


Credibility and the campaigns

Posted in democracy, elections, politics by jrahman on October 28, 2013

From Facebook status writers to TV talking heads via op ed columnists, everyone is talking about the BNP chief’s speech.  Unsurprisingly, the BNP supporters are positive about it, while AL-ers find the speech not-so-positive, focussing on the number of former caretaker government advisors still alive in good health and with interest to serve in a potential new caretaker government.

All that minutiae discussion completely misses the forest for the trees.  The best take on Mrs Zia’s speech that I have come across is David Bergman’s.  His title sums it up —Smart with an eye on the international community.


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Harvard education, তথ্য , and the real record

Posted in development, economic history, economics, macro by jrahman on October 17, 2013

Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Executive MPA program requires one compulsory course in Economics and Quantitative Analysis.    Reading about his claim and promise about doubling per capita income, I wonder whether Mr Sajeeb Ahmed Wazed — the Prime Minister’s son and an emerging Awami League leader — paid any attention in that course.

According to Channel I and Prothom Alo, Mr Wazed said:

“গত পাঁচ বছরে আপনাদের আয় দ্বিগুণ হয়েছে। আমরা ওয়াদা করছি, আবার ক্ষমতায় গেলে আয় দ্বিগুণ করব….. গড় আয় ৪০ হাজার টাকা থেকে বেড়ে ৮০ হাজার টাকা হয়েছে”

In the past five years, your income has doubled.  We promise that when we return to power, we will double it again… average income has increased from 40,000 taka to 80,000 taka.

The claim / promise has been relayed around the cyberspace, and is a key talking point in the Awami echo chamber.  The thing is, if Mr Wazed had really understood anything in that Kennedy School course, he would not have said the above.  And Awami Leaguers would be well advised to not push this line.

Let’s go through this blow-by-blow.


Predicting the election result from the polls

Posted in democracy, elections, politics by jrahman on October 4, 2013

1543 BDT Oct 10: Thoroughly updated for the latest PA poll.

“Had it not been for the protests, now we would all be focusing on next year’s elections and looking at the government’s record in office and the opposition’s pledges,” said Zafar Sobhan, editor of the Dhaka Tribune, an English daily. “Now, all bets are off and elections seem a distant concern. It is hard to see how things will revert to politics as usual after this.”

That’s from Syed Zain-Al-Mahmood’s excellent Guardian report on Shahbag.  That was February.  Now it’s September October.  The protesters are long gone.  And everyone’s focusing on the elections —when will they happen, how they will happen, will they really happen, who will win if they do happen, how big the margin will be.

Zafar was hardly the only one who thought that way about politics as usual.  Across the ideological and political spectrum, there was a general agreement that politics-as-usual would end in the spring and summer of 2013 —the debate really was about what would replace it.  Well, in the autumn of 2013, politics-as-usual is back with vengeance.  And this post is all about politics-as-usual.

I have nothing to say about the when and how or whether of the coming election.  Instead, let me focus on what the polls imply about the results of a hypothetical election held this winter.  Some simple calculations – details over the fold – suggest that while such an election will likely result in an unprecedented comfortable BNP landslide.  victory, AL is still very much in the race.


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Making a stand, taking a side

Posted in AL, army, BNP, democracy, Islamists, politics, uprisings by jrahman on March 4, 2013

I argued in the last post that Bangladesh is back to politics-as-usual.  Whereas I was surprised by the Shahbag Awakening*, needing a reassessment of a lot of my priors, nothing like that is needed to analyse politics-as-usual.  I can use my mental model of politics — including the key players and their objectives, incentives and strategies — to analyse the situation.  That doesn’t, of course, mean the analysis will be necessarily correct.  But even when I get things wrong, I can update my views with the latest infromation as long as the basic framework of my analysis is intact.

An analysis of unfolding events since Friday makes for some rather uncomfortable conclusions for me.  And yet, there are times when one ought to make a stand, even if it means taking a side.  I believe now is such a time.  Over the fold is why this blog rejects tomorrow’s hartal.