Participatory election a must


It is no wonder that the democratic institutions in Bangladesh are in a sorry state. And there is no denying the fact that the country is going backwards as far as a free and fair election is concerned.

The ruling party has started its election campaign with their sight set on a third term, but a participatory election is once again doubtful as the chairperson of the biggest opposition party is likely to be sentenced in a graft case.

According to Economist Intelligent Unit's (EIU) latest 'Democracy Index: Free Speech Under Attack', Bangladesh has fallen eight notches -- to 92nd among 167 nations in 2017 from 84 in 2016. In the 2017 index, Bangladesh has scored poorly, 5.43 in a scale of 10.

The country is also bracketed as one of three countries, apart from Pakistan and the Philippines, where journalists faced "physical and death threats on a regular basis", says the EIU report. "There have been hundreds of attacks in Bangladesh against journalists and bloggers and several have been murdered," it observed.

The report has used terms like 'declining popular participation in elections and politics', 'growing influence of unelected, unaccountable institutions and expert bodies', 'decline in media freedoms' and 'erosion of civil liberties, including curbs on free speech' to describe the country's present scenario.

Democracy in Bangladesh has failed to stand strong. Between 1991 and 2014, the parliament sessions were attended by the ruling party and the opposition MPs. Although on many occasions, the opposition boycotted a session, still parliamentary democracy was there.

The decline in The Economist's index is a matter of shame not only for the government, but also for BNP as well. The BNP would point a finger at the 2014 election, but the reality is that they have to shoulder a fair share of the blame, too. They did not bother to improve the situation either.

And the ruling party, they have opted to run parliament with an opposition that are always at the government's behest. They never realised that a parliamentary democracy cannot be ensured without keeping the biggest opposition out of the house. The previous opposition parties did taint democracy, but the present opposition in parliament have made things worse.

When parliament is weak, a free judiciary and the media play roles to uphold democracy. But refusing to divide the judiciary, keeping them under pressure and enacting laws that are threat to the free media only tells us that democracy here is very much intolerant. If we are to go up the democracy index, we have no alternative but to hold a free and fair participatory election. At the same time, all the other entities have to ensure increased democratic practices as well.

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