People’s participation that makes democracy

by Nurul Kabir

01Democracy is not all about elections, but election is a fundamental component of democracy particularly when it comes to governance of the state and the formulation of policies affecting lives and livelihood of its citizens.
Democracy is primarily about equality of citizens and accountability of rulers of the state. The equality of citizens means the social, political, economic and cultural equality of citizens irrespective of their gender, and ethnic and religious identities while accountability of the rulers means the accountability of those ‘voted’ to power by the people.
In a democratic dispensation, the members of the legislative branch of the state must be elected by people through a free, fair and contested elections, for the lawmakers could have no other way to make/unmake laws on behalf of the people, who in a democracy, are accepted universally as the source of power.
However, this is not enough for a state to be democratic to have its lawmakers to be elected by the people. The elected representatives must ensure that they make laws, or repeal them, in consistency with the fundamental principle of democracy, which is, as mentioned at the outset — the social, political, economic and cultural equality of citizens. The fundamental democratic responsibilities of the legislature, the parliament in other words, also include ensuring accountability of the executive wing of the state, the government that is, to the people in terms of upholding as well as expanding other inalienable democratic rights of the citizens like the freedom of movement, the freedom of thoughts and expression, the freedom of assembly to protest against injustice, et cetera. Tolerance to the dissenting views of the citizens is, after all, considered to be a fundamental means for a democratic state to get stronger. If the members of the legislature fail to discharge all these defined responsibilities on behalf of the people, the electorates concerned must have the legal scope to call their representative/s back to the pavilion in order to pave the way for sending fresh representatives through fresh elections. The politically conscious sections of Bangladeshis have developed the aspirations for a comprehensive social, political, economic and cultural order, which is truly representative in nature, and therefore would fulfil al the promises that democracy theoretically proposes to the people at large. But the ruling quarters, always a tiny minority, have always stood in the way.
Bangladeshis have a long political history of fighting for democracy for more than two centuries although the level of democratic consciousness of the people in question was different at different phases of history. Under the British colonial regime, they fought for ‘self-rule’, which had eventually culminated in the independence of Pakistan, along with India, in 1947. Under the Pakistani neo-colonial rule, the people of this country have fought for regional autonomy and representative democracy, which ended up in the independence of Bangladesh through a bloodied war against the occupation army of Pakistan in 1971. In the independent Bangladesh, the people have fought against civilian autocracy, military dictatorship and pseudo-democratic ‘elected’ regimes in the past. Now, the entire populace has been exposed to a self-seeking civilian regime, which is neither elected through a participatory and contested national poll nor it appears interested in righting the wrongs that it had stained the electoral process with. Instead, the incumbents are out to claim, shamelessly, that the last ‘general elections held’ on January 5, in which no opposition parties took part, and in which there was not even a single ‘independent’ candidates in as many as 154 out of the 300 constituencies of the national parliament, have given them the legitimacy to rule the country for five years. Notably, as many as 154 candidates of the Awami League-led ruling coalition were ‘declared’ elected unopposed, enabling the Awami League to secure a numerical strength more than enough to form government without a single vote being cast in its favour. In the rest of the constituencies, again, with no opposition candidates participating, the members of the Awami League and its partners were ‘elected’ with only 10–12 per cent of the electorates exercising the right to franchise. Yet, the underdeveloped ‘political consciousness’ of the incumbents, or their greed for power, drives them to claim that they are a ‘representative government’ that the country’s political martyrs have sacrificed their lives for. Some leaders of the Awami League, professing to be champions of democracy only the other day, have, however, recently claimed that ‘democracy is not important’ for bringing in economic development!
07Divorced from society, the Awami League government is now dependent on the coercive force of the state, both in terms of protecting its power and repressing the opposition movement against its undemocratic practices. In the process, the Awami League is out to gag the mass media and twist the arms of the higher judiciary — the two forums that the dissenting intellectuals voice their political sentiments against undemocratic governance and the political opponents take refuge in to escape the wrath of the repressive measures of the autocratic governments. These are a couple of strategy that all illegitimate and/or authoritative governments on earth adopt to cling to the power without people’s mandate.
While the free, fair and participatory national election is the primary pre-condition for the democratisation of the state, the democratically-oriented sections of society now must work, in tandem, towards restoring the voting rights of the citizens, which has this time been snatched away by the power-hungry Awami League and its pathetic political cohorts. However, one must not forget at the same time that the elections are not all about democracy. The democratic forces — social, political and cultural — must also mobilise public opinion to force an elected legislature to make a government accountable to people in terms of ensuring the democratic equality of all the citizens, in all its forms — social and cultural, political and economic. For that to happen, the government has to ensure, both legally and practically, equal opportunities of citizens to public resources of the state.
Nurul Kabir is editor of New Age.

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