Finding faults with democracy

by Dr Mahbub Ullah

02An Awami League leader while addressing a seminar in connection with National Mourning Day said that no state in the world could make any progress through democracy. Democracy cannot bring development for the country. Development demands good governance and correct leadership. The same leader also claimed that the high commissioner of Australia had come to meet him a few days back. The Australian high commissioner raised the issue of democracy with him. While responding to the query of the high commissioner, the Awami League leader asserted that none of the countries of the world could make any progress by virtue of democracy. Countries like Malaysia, Singapore and China succeeded in making progress not through democracy but through good governance and competent leadership. This story has been reported in a national daily newspaper. However, another national daily newspaper reported that the same Awami League leader asserted that through democracy alone no nation could make any progress. Whatever this leader might have said whether using a qualifying word or not, this speaks of the mindset of Awami League leaders. This particular leader could not hide his disdain for democracy. Democracy, however faulty, is considered to be the best invention of humanity in managing the affairs of the state. No other system has yet proved to be as robust as democracy.
The relationship between democracy and development is a contentious issue. Advanced countries of the west such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France and Germany etc have chosen the path of democracy to achieve economic growth and development. Many philosophers and thinkers have opined that economic success can be achieved only in an environment of freedom and human dignity. Take away freedom and self-dignity from the human beings, they will be reduced to the status of serfs. Any attempt to bypass democracy in a quest for development is nothing but a road to serfdom. Should Bangladeshis choose the road to serfdom for achieving economic development? The answer is an emphatic ‘no’.
How queer is the logic of drawing a dividing line between good governance and democracy! Good governance is a basic precondition for democracy. Good governance involves transparency and accountability. Without these two pillars, democracy must stumble down. A government which does not care to be accountable to people cannot claim to be democratic even though such a government is elected by people. The system of democracy has created institutions such as the parliament, the judiciary, the anti-corruption commission, the human rights commission, the right to information commission and many other bodies to make the government of the day accountable. The system of accountability in a democracy ensures that resources of the state are allocated in the best interest of people and efficiently brooking no ground for nepotism and cronyism. At the same time a government lacking in representative character avoids accountability to perpetuate its rule and hide all sorts of misdeeds. Authoritarian governments try to prolong their regime through the distribution of patronage to their favoured ones and create oligarchic set-ups. We have seen this practice in our country and many other countries. Clearly, good governance and democracy cannot be separated and no cleavage exists between them.
The present Awami League regime is in utter discomfort after the voter-less election of January 5. This regime is suffering from a crisis of legitimacy. This lack of legitimacy emanates more from the moral grounds rather than constitutional ground. We all know that the force of morality far outweighs the force of legality. No power on earth has ever survived the test of time without having moral strength. Therefore, Awami think-tanks have developed a queer theory of good governance and development without any reference to democracy. They think that the regime can survive its current term through providing good governance and development. Even on this count, the regime is severely vulnerable. Because, every day newspapers of the country print stories of corruption, loot and plunder, which the government has failed utterly to rein in. We do not see any hope that the government will be able to deliver good governance and development in the near future. This only brings frustration to people.
Yes, governments of the newly industrialized countries of Asia have succeeded in achieving impressive economic growth. Governments of these countries are authoritarian or semi-authoritarian in character. They believe that through enriching the material conditions of their people they can establish their legitimacy. They have also succeeded in creating social mobility among their people. Existence of space for social mobility creates an illusion among the people that a good lot of them can better their conditions as others have already done. This sort of thinking makes people apolitical. In a situation like this, authoritarian regimes can hope to last longer. But, during periods of economic crisis as the one typified by the Asian crisis, people become restive and demand democracy. Even in a highly developed capitalist country like the United States, people clamour for change during economic recession as we have seen in the aftermath of 2008 crisis through movements like Occupy Wall Street. Bangladeshi people are very much politically conscious. They have been through the democratic process since the days of the Raj. They do not want to live by bread alone. So, the wicked theory of development and good governance sans democracy holds no water. Sorry to say that our people are also deprived from their share of bread.
As a conclusion, a caveat on development is necessary. There was a time when economists believed that a rise in per capita income is enough to be considered development. That kind of thinking is no more fashionable. Genuine development denotes improvement in material conditions of life, which is equitably shared by all. Development also means inclusiveness irrespective of gender and ethnic groups. Development means enhancing capability of people to achieve self-realisation. Development precludes alienation in all forms and ensures movement towards universal brotherhood and elimination of conflicts in all their ramifications. Despite tremendous material progress in many countries, we are yet to see development in its true meaning.
Dr. Mahbub Ullah is an economist.

One Comment

  1. Saleh Md. Shahriar says:

    excellent piece.thanks

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