V-Dem Institute has placed Bangladesh in the 'Electoral Autocracies' category. Bangladesh was in the same position last time too.
There has been a global trend of authoritarianism. A total of 72 per cent of the population of the world lives under autocratic regimes. Ten years ago this was 48 per cent.
It is no secret why Bangladesh is on a steady downslide in all indicators of democracy. We have achieved significant economic development in the 51 years since independence. We were faring well in almost all economic indicators up till the outbreak of Covid. But it has been quite the contrary regarding politics.
Our political leadership should not forget that it was because the Pakistani rulers had rejected the results of the 1970 election that the people of this country took up arms in protest and freed the country by means of the liberation war. Democracy is one of the main four pillars of the state of Bangladesh. The present predicament of democracy in the country born from the aspirations of democracy, cannot be accepted.
All consecutive party governments have tried to influence the elections. When in the opposition, our political leaders go all out to ensure free and fair elections. Once they are in government, they forget all about that. And this is true not just about national elections alone. Other than a few exceptions, the local government elections have all become one-sided and without any contest. For as long as these local elections had been non-political, there had been a balance of power. But once the local government institutions were drawn into the political sphere, this has become a farce.
We really don't need any international research organisation's report to understand how precarious the state of Bangladesh's election-based democracy is at the present. The people of this country who have lost their rights to vote understand this bitterly. The election system and institutions are ineffective. In paper, the election commission seems to be independent, but in reality it simply caters to the demands of the rulers. That was at least 100 per cent true in the case of the past two election commissions.
The fundamentals of democracy reflect the aspirations of the people. It is about running the country with the government elected by the people. This is in no way possible without fair elections. Unfortunately, the fact remains that no election under any party government in Bangladesh has been fair or credible. The elections that have been considered fair, free and credible, have all been held under caretaker government.
The national election is to be held in less than a year's time. If we want to establish actual democracy, if we want to halt this shameful downslide in the democracy index, then instead of a perfunctory election, we must hold an election that is, in the true sense, inclusive and competitive. There is no alternative to this.