The day after tomorrow

Posted in democracy, elections, politics by jrahman on January 6, 2019

The infamous 30 December not-quite-an-election is now truly behind us, and Bangladesh today is exactly where it was five years ago.  And there is no sign of anything changing anytime soon.  The regime of Prime Minister Hasina Wajed holds a tight grip on power, and it’s hard to see anything loosening that grip today.  But tomorrow — figuratively, not literally — will certainly be different.  The super-densely populated humid swamp that is Bangladesh is always at the edge of chaos.  Credit where its due — Mrs Wajed has been extremely deft at keeping her regime, and the rest of us, from falling over the cliff.  But nothing lasts forever.  Sooner or later, there will be a tomorrow when the regime finds itself out of credit to pay off the crisis.

What will happen the day after?


Comments Off on The day after tomorrow

A people’s republic

Posted in elections, politics by jrahman on December 28, 2018

A country isn’t changed by politicians, but its people…..  You are Bangladesh…..  We have no more fear.  We have put Bangladesh in our heart such that there is no place for fear in it…..  On the 30th….  you will take ownership of this country…..  We want to leave this country to our children.

A few weeks ago, I asked why the promises of a few old men should be taken seriously.  Harassed, threatened, beaten, bloodied, shot, arrested, family members arrested — yet, Jatiya Oikya Front is still spreading a message of hope.  Their grit alone deserves to be taken seriously.  And Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir’s inspiring words are backed up by specific commitments that will return the republic to its people.


Comments Off on A people’s republic

Cometh the hour…

Posted in elections, music, politics, rock by jrahman on December 25, 2018

One common concern trolling among the Awami League supporters is regarding the leadership of the Jatiya Oikya Front — who is your leader, if you win, who will be your prime minister, who will be the real decision maker etc.  The idea of collective leadership, cabinet governance, the party room deciding who will be its parliamentary leader — these notions are simply alien to Bangladeshi political culture.  Meanwhile, in many seats, it’s hard if not impossible for many JOF candidates to present themselves before the voters — some are in jail, others are forced out of their areas by AL thugs, and violent interruption of electioneering is commonplace.

Does it matter?  Perhaps the public doesn’t mind that JOF is a collective effort.  Perhaps it’s all about the election symbol.  Perhaps the public sentiment is: We don’t need another hero / We don’t need to know the way home / All we want is life beyond the Thunderdome.

If people come out to vote, is state machinery strong enough to suppress the public will?  But will people come out to vote?


Comments Off on Cometh the hour…

A few old men

Posted in Bangladesh, democracy, elections, history, politics, Uncategorized by jrahman on December 4, 2018

A corrupt, selfish elite rules over you, an elite in cahoots with foreigners, to whom the nation’s assets and future is being sold; and the lying media and rootless intellectuals stop you from seeing the truth; and yet, you sense the truth, that’s why you flock to the leader; even as the enemies of the people demonise him for not echoing their sophistry, you feel he tells it as it is — that he will kick the elite out, drain the swamp, lock the corrupt up, kill the criminals, and fix what ails the country; and make no mistake, it’s not hard to fix things, it’s just the knavery and perfidy of corrupt elite that need to be rooted out, and the leader will do just that; and he has proved it, hasn’t he, in his remarkable career as (business tycoon or mayor or army officer or whatever); he will make the country great, because he is truly of the country, like you are, and unlike those footloose elite who will flee the land with their ill gotten wealth if things get tough.

In recent years, variations of the above have reverberated from Washington DC to New Delhi, Warsaw to Brasilia, and Istanbul to Manila.  And politics around the world has been shaken.  There appears to be one exception — there doesn’t appear to be a Bangladeshi strongman on the scene.

There might have been.  After all, charges of corruption and ‘selling the country to foreigners’ can be laid quite easily against the current regime in Dhaka.  And historically, Bangladeshis have proved as susceptible to the cult of the leader as any other people.  So there might well have been a would be strongman leading the opposition.

Curiously, as Sherlock Holmes might have said, strongman in Bangladeshi politics is a dog that didn’t bark.


Comments Off on A few old men


Posted in democracy, elections, politics by jrahman on November 25, 2018

These old men are bringing politics back, yeah / Them other guys don’t know how to act, yeah…. — okay, that’s enough frivolities, this is a serious political post.  Jatiya Oikya Front is taking on the regime of Hasina Wajed through the ballot box, thereby bringing politics back, politics that was sent packing by the prime minister of East Peccavistan five years ago.  What exactly is going on?  How did we get here?  That’s hard enough to answer, never mind any prediction of what will happen next!

What do I mean politics was sent packing?  Four years ago, I argued that our institutional settings — unitary republic with a unicameral legislature, constitutional bar against floor crossing, and the first past the post voting system — plus the historical baggage carried by the two party chiefs led to the autocracy of Mrs Wajed.  Her rival, Mrs Zia, was soundly beaten.  And with that, politics as we knew it ended.

The institutions we created/inherited, with the historical factors, led to the politics of the past decades. After 1991, BNP realised that it had power over so many things, while AL realised that it had power over absolutely nothing.  AL immediately set on winning power. It went with what it knew well —andolon. BNP panicked and rigged a by-election in Magura, giving AL a casus beli. After 1996, BNP figured that andolon would not do, so they introduced the alliance concept. After 2001, AL did andolon, but also formed a bigger alliance and introduced behind-the-scene moves with the establishment. Meanwhile, each successive government took centralisation to a new level.

And all this, because losing is not an option in a winner take all world.

At least in that world, the existence of two parties created some form of balance of force.  That balance is now gone.  BNP is not able to dislodge the government.  Calling for a free and fair election is a pointless exercise because the government isn’t interested in offering one, and the establishment isn’t convinced switching the masters will do anyone any good.  As a result, politics as we have come to know is finished.

A few hours after I posted that, another round of andolon ensued.  I don’t know whether this was premeditated or spontaneous, but the opposition BNP’s apparent number two called for the street protest to continue until the government fell.  I don’t know whether the violence that ensued were acts of agent provocateurs, but force did not bring politics back.

So, how did politics come back now?


Comments Off on Politicsback

Putting a ring on it

Posted in democracy, elections, politics by jrahman on November 14, 2018

The Fonz, was a cool guy.  No, the leather jacketed Fonzie was the cool guy in the small all American town of Happy Days — a 1970s American sitcom set in the 1950s reruns of which aired frequently in the 1990s.  The Fonz was so cool that no one ever dared cross him, except no one ever saw Fonzie actually throw a punch.  Fonzie was cool because everyone agreed that he was cool.  He had the credibility that he was cool, even though no one quite knew how he earned that credibility.

Credibility is a subject of great interest to policy-oriented social studies types.  For example, consider the case of terrorists — of the mid-20th century, non-suicide bombing, pre-jihadi variety — taking over a skyscraper or a battleship, and declaring that they would kill a hostage every hour unless their demands of a million dollar in cash and safe passage to Brazil are met.  Well, if the authorities consist of cool guys like the arse-kicking president who would never give in to the terrorists, and the terrorists knew this well, then perhaps terrorists would never attempt their nefarious act.

How does one establish credibility?  Finn Kydland and Ed Prescott studied this in the 1970s, and won the Bank of Sweden Prize in 2004.  One implication of their theory, and theories that followed, is that credibility is dependent on actions.  If you make a promise, and incur some costs in the process of making or keeping the promise, then you’re more likely to be taken seriously.  This is where the idea of putting a ring on it comes from.  A diamond ring is costly, and serves no practical purpose other than to signal to the potential bride that the guy is serious.

I have been thinking about credibility a lot in the context of Bangladesh’s new opposition alliance and the upcoming election.  Specifically, Shafquat Rabbee’s recent op ed got me thinking.


Comments Off on Putting a ring on it

Bangla politics — Zafar Sobhan style

Posted in AL, BNP, Islamists, politics by jrahman on October 11, 2012

Zafar Sobhan is a good friend, great editor, and sometimes, a good political analyst.  Yes, I’ve had my public disagreement with him, for example about the 2010 Indo-Bangla summit (my scepticism has been backed by reality).  But Zafar also got some big things right.  His general Awami leanings notwithstanding, he was one of the first to be bluntly honest about l’affaire Yunus  — something many of my AL-er friends have failed to do.  More importantly, when all the pundits — from Mahmudur Rahman to Asif Nazrul to Nayeemul Islam Khan to Nazim Kamran Chowdhury to yours truly — expected a last minute rally towards BNP in 2008 election, Zafar correctly called the Awami landslide.  

Sadly, his recent piece on Bangladeshi politics is not one of those stronger ones.  Rather, it characterises both elements of Zafar’s analysis — astute description of the underlying issue, and a rather naive conclusion. 


All the Madam’s (economic) men

Posted in BNP, economics, macro, politics by jrahman on August 29, 2012

(Warning: this post contains high degree of unsubstantiated speculation).

One good thing about blogging solo, or not writing op eds, is that you don’t have to follow any deadline or chase the latest headline.  Blogging at UV, for example, used to involve having a timely post on whatever the major issue was in a given week.  These days, on the other hand, I post on what I feel like, when I feel like.  I haven’t seen the newspapers in the past 48 hours, and have no idea what’s the latest strom in the teacup.  So I am going to post about a couple of speeches the BNP chairperson has given on economic matters.


BNP and the history wars

Posted in Bangladesh, BNP, history, politics by jrahman on June 11, 2012

As noted in my last post on Bangladesh politics, five and a half years after BNP was booted out of power, and three and half years after its electoral drubbing, the ‘facebook class’ still blames the party for much of what ails Bangladesh.  Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, BNP’s de facto number two-and-half (depending on one’s views on Tarique Rahman’s active involvement in BNP politics), seems to be well aware of the problem.  In a rather well written piece last year, he makes the case for BNP to that part of the ‘young generation’ who indulge in ‘ফেসবুক, বাংলা ব্লগ ও অনলাইন পত্র-পত্রিকার পাঠক প্রতিক্রিয়া’ (Facebook, Bangla blogs, and readers’ reactions in online magazines).

He runs two lines of arguments.  First, BNP has better (or not-as-bad) record than AL in office.  Second, it chooses to not dwell on the past.  Here is a key sentence:

আমাদের রাজনীতি এই বর্তমানকে ঘিরে এবং আমি নিঃসন্দেহে দাবী করতে পারি যে আমরা আওয়ামী লীগের চেয়ে বেটার ম্যানেজারস। (Our politics is about the present and I can unequivocally claim that we are better managers than the Awami League).

That BNP’s record is at least as good as AL’s, if not better, when it comes to the economy is something reflected in the data.  And one could make a similar case for non-economic matters too.  Curiously, the author doesn’t actually spend much time with these facts and figures.  Perhaps he thinks it’s self evident.  But if that were so, his target audience would not be blaming BNP at the fag end of AL’s term.  I guess recognising this, BNP has of late started to use numbers to support its case — its alternate Budget outline is a good example of that.

If the piece isn’t stuffed with data, then perhaps there was some ‘grand historical narrative’?  Disappointingly, no.  Mr Mirza is a good writer, and an erudite person.  He could have launched a strong salvo for his party in the history wars.  Instead, he dodged the fighting.


How soon is now?

Posted in AL, BNP, democracy, dynasties, elections, music, politics, rock by jrahman on June 5, 2012

It’s an iconic 1980s song, played in the stereo systems of many a nerdy college kid over the past decades.  Along with Hanif Kureishi’s work, apprently it’s among the best commentary on the Thatcher era England.  It was also one of the themes of this classic Aaron Spelling drama.  And now, it seems to be a great commentary on Bangladeshi political scene. Reading the Economist’s recent editorial and news story on Bangladesh, I kept recalling Morrissey’s matter-of-fact statement:  when you say it’s gonna happen “now”, well, when exactly do you mean? see I’ve already waited too long, and all my hope is gone.