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29 May, 2019 00:00 00 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 29 May, 2019 03:47:37 PM

Democracy begins at the party level

In democracy, political parties change decisions and stances but these are based on prior arguments and discussions within their caucuses, representing the views of the majority
Shamim A. Zahedy
Democracy begins at the party level

In an unanticipated and unforeseen twist on April 29, 2019, the BNP, which is otherwise known for its ‘rigid and unbending’ political stances in recent decades, really went 180 degrees to join the 11th parliament, exposing the cracks and ultimate crises in Bangladesh politics.

May be even 10 minutes before the four MPs-elect took their oaths as parliamentarians from Speaker Shirin Sharmin Choudhury, senior BNP leaders including Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, had little or no idea about the party decision to reverse their stance of not joining the parliament.

Immediately after taking oath, the four BNP lawmakers said that they had taken oath as MPs of the 11th parliament with the consent of party acting Chairman Tarique Rahman, who following his implication and subsequent conviction in a number of cases has been living in London in self-exile since 2008. The MPs also said that, through Skype telecommunications application, they had talked to the interim party chief, who had taken over as acting leader in February in 2018 after his mother and party chief Khaleda Zia had been sent to jail in a corruption case.

Mirza Alamgir, the only remaining of the 6 MPs-elect of BNP who finally did not take oath, then appeared on the scene, announcing the party decision to carry out simultaneous movement both inside and outside the parliament by using the limited opportunity to speak in the house for restoration of ‘voting rights’, democracy and release of Khaleda Zia.

Another MP-elect, the first of BNP, had taken oath a few days before the four went to the parliament, drawing the suspension of his party membership.

After the December 30, 2018 parliamentary elections, the BNP and its allies were demanding fresh elections with the complaint that widespread and wholesale rigging marred the whole polls process. The party and its alliance partners bagged only eight seats—BNP got six while Dr Kamal Hossain-led Gana Forum two—out of 300 parliamentary seats.    

Although it is often said end justifies means when it comes to politics, politics in reality is not and should not be devoid of principles, ethics, values and ideology. In democracy, political parties change their decisions and stances but these are based on prior arguments and discussions within their caucuses, representing the views of the majority.        

In the case of BNP, it seems the decision to join parliament was taken overnight and single-handedly. Not even the party’s highest policy making body, National Standing Committee, was consulted. Even some top senior leaders on record told the media that they had been in dark when the party decision to join the parliament was taken. The decision was solely attributed to party’s acting chairman Tarique Rahman, whom the administration considers a fugitive following his conviction in a number of criminal cases.  

Bangladesh’s major political parties over the recent decades have grown a unique habit of putting all faith in their top leaders, making them omnipotent guides. Consequently, the critical decision making process has been undermined and the practice of democracy within parties has been stalled, exposing deep crises in politics.

Similar to what was going on inside BNP, Jatiya Party Chairman HM Ershad, known for his ever-changing decisions, reinstated in April his brother GM Quader as the party’s co-chairman, the post he was earlier stripped of. In another single-handed move the nearly 90 years old party chief also nominated his brother to become chairman in his absence.

“I would like to remind party members at all levels that in my absence or when I am abroad for treatment, the party’s present co-chairman GM Quader will act as the chairman of Jatiya Party,” the all-powerful chief announced in a statement.

All the decisions whether they are small or big must be taken or directly consulted by the chairman. Decisions with regards to party nomination for any public office or any party position or even the nomination of future chairman of the party do not require the consents of Jatiya Party’s any committee or anybody.

In mid May 2019, a faction of ruling Awami League-backed Bangladesh Chhatra League (BCL), being deprived of positions, took to the streets demanding cancellation of the BCL’s newly-formed committee. The activists, who were not included in the new committee, alleged non-students, drug dealers and criminals got posts in the new committee.

All the street demonstrations and accusations indicate that there had been no transparent election or selection process whatsoever. And it comes without saying that without an accepted process intra-party street agitations and literally bloody affairs within a political party will continue to grow.

Besides the central committees, most district level committees of the Bangladesh’s major political parties are not constituted through secret ballots or any accepted process.

Top party positions are earmarked for particular persons for decades. In absence of these supreme leaders their family members either are acting as deputies or getting prepared to take the helm. Even for the second most coveted posts within a party, be it general secretary or secretary general, candidates were never elected in the party forum in the recent decades. They were absolutely handpicked.  

The nomination process for awarding party tickets for parliamentary elections is close to quasi feudal where the grassroots leaders or the persons who wish to contest from particular constituencies have little voice. A group of central leaders with ‘brooding faces’ decide the fate of aspiring candidates based on certain criteria, one of which is lineage these days. Direct family members such as sons, daughters and wives get the priority.  

Even in the parliament, freedom of speech and opinion is not practiced. Members of parliament cannot take a side on any bill other than the party line. Article 70 of the constitution reads: “A person elected as a Member of Parliament at an election at which he was nominated as a candidate by a political party shall vacate his seat if he votes in Parliament against that party.”

Other than no confidence motion in parliament, the lawmakers should be allowed to speak their mind, their conscience.

Restraining the MPs from siding with any bill other than the no confidence motion stems from the absence of democracy within parties. Democracy within political parties is needed to ensure rule of law in Bangladesh. Charity begins at home.

The writer is the Executive Editor of

The Independent. E-Mail: shamim.zahedy@theindependentbd.com

More Articles by Shamim A. Zahedy:

The spirit of cricket stands defeated (02-04-2015)

Sobering effect from the tally of deaths and destruction ? (17-04-2015)

Social media vs mainstream news media (13-04-2016)

Uber veers off the road in Dhaka (30-11-2016)

Meandering through the maze of Section 57 (09-05-2017)

Khaleda’s recipe for good governance (18-05-2017)

Missing links in Muhith’s dossier (09-06-2017)

Testing time for UN as Rohingyas continue to suffer (21-09-2017)

Rice price scam in Bangladesh (15-10-2017)

Indian army chief’s unbecoming comments and implications (27-02-2018)

A defence of newspapers (26-03-2018)

PM’s invitation: BNP needs to seize the opportunity (01-02-2019)

Stop the menace of Hercules namesake (10-02-2019)

Be practical in dealing with coaching centres (21-02-2019)

Britain cannot make Shamima Begum stateless (04-03-2019)

Wars over Kashmir bring only deaths, not solution (01-04-2019)



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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