Monday, December 29, 2008

Election in Bangladesh - Yay!!! or Nay?

The Bangladeshi elections are almost over and just like the previous elections in my lifetime, we can safely assume a Zia or Hasina leadership with the polls leaning towards Hasina from the Awami-League party, the party that claims the establishment of the nation itself. The country has arguably been under a constitutionally mandated military government in an effort to 'purge' the country of corruption and illegal voting practices experienced in the past. And now we have come to this moment in history where there are 80 million people on the voter rolls with apparently a 70% voter turn out, which is impressive for any democratic elections.

What do Bangladeshis hope to achieve from this elections? An end to the military government, which has been accused of many human rights violations? Will Bangladeshi see better days? Are elections really the solution to the many problems faced by the governance system of the country? I had a chance to take a look at the constitution of the country and like most constitutions, it has adequate provisions for the different branches of government, rights of the citizens, and a recognition that it is founded on social democratic principles, which promotes 'economic and social justice.' There are 150 million people in Bangladesh and time and time again we allow ourselves to be governed by an utterly incompetent, irresponsible government with no accountability to its constituents. So there is no doubt that whatever the outcome we need a definitive change in the way governance is conducted in Bangladesh.

Firstly, we need to see an end to the dynasty-esque politics in the country run by the Zias and the Sheikhs. In the USA, we just saw 20 years of Bushs and Clintons halted with the inability of Hillary Clinton to be elected on her very recognisable name alone. There is no doubt that recognisable names help. A last name like Kennedy, Bush, and Clinton goes a long way but uncomfortably so. The core tenet of democracy is 'For the people, by the people, of the people', which means that it is inherently contrary to democratic rule to have people from the same family create dynasties and rule decade after decade. The Sheikhs and Zias have been threaded into the core of Bangladeshi politics since the birth of the country and the people need to demand a change. At the very least we need to set term limits for prime-ministers and other Ministerial positions. These families are pivotal in the Bangladeshi political scene, and have a certain amount of expertise but would perhaps be better served in advisory and ambassadorial positions.

Secondly, we need to see independence, impartiality and a willingness to enforce the rule of law from the judiciary. It is meaningless to make corruption charges with no follow-through. The entire public is well aware that these leaders and top members are guilty of a certain amount of corruption. How can they not be when the entire country is rife with corruption and we proudly boast the 'most corrupted country in the world' title. But every time the judiciary is soft on our national leaders, it makes other potential leaders inherently immune from future charges. The lack of precedent makes it easier for the next generation of politicians to continue the tradition that we have come to hate but have no intention to change. I was under the impression that the legal system of Bangladesh was complicated and different to what I have studied. The actual truth is that Bangladesh has many learned constitutional lawyers and judges who are well aware of how rule of law operates in the western world the principles they represent. Rather than providing a check on the government's activities, these judges and lawyers have become an aid. It is the judiciary's responsibility to thwart the tyranny of the majority and the Bangladeshi judiciary has completely abrogated their duty to the administration of justice. Someone ought to give them a copy of the Magna Carta. The judiciary has to have the support of the public in that they can do their job without fear of persecution from the government. This is the core principle of the Magna Carta and Bangladesh absolutely needs to adopt those principles.

Thirdly, Bangladesh needs to develop better bilateral relations with countries who can help solve our population crisis. It is no secret that manpower is actually a resource that Bangladesh can export. There are many countries where the official language may not be English but they are in dire need of people to fill certain professions that their citizens cannot. Teachers, GP's and specific positions in bio-technical and environmental research will be in great demand as the baby-boomers all over the world start to retire and birth rates continue to drop. Bilateral trade agreements allow these countries to educate people in their home-countries with accreditation from host countries. We have the population to sustain a brain-drain and lets not forget one of Bangladesh's greatest revenue-making enterprise is income from our citizens living overseas. There is no doubt that Bangladesh will face and environmental refugee problem and sooner or later that tiny piece of land will not be able to sustain the population mostly because it is going to be even tinier. We cannot count on multi-lateral agreements and have to take initiative on our own for our own benefit. We cannot rely on Egypt or India to speak for us at the WTO. We can no longer use our status as a developing country to not engage in trade. If brain is what we have that brain is what we have to offer.

Lastly, Bangladesh does not have unique problems. The country is facing some of the same problems that all countries in the world face. Fortunately as a young country we can look at how other countries have dealt with these problems to draw on solutions. Housing, education, employment, healthcare, infrastructure, sustainability, corruption are some of the few problems that every country has to deal with. Even the richest countries have poverty. It is true that we may have it on a bigger scale but that does not mean that there aren't simple solutions to these big problems. Bangladesh has a rich history, a beautiful culture of arts, music and literature. There are many innovative and hard-working people in Bangladesh who are hopeful for a better future. We have done just fine without fast-food and cable-tv and while the first world is busy losing weight, we can roll our sleeves and get things done for our country.

30 December, 2008

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