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Functioning of political institutions, democratic practice need for collective leadership PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Staff Correspondent

The interim government faces the challenge of transformation to functional democracy through participatory elections, observed political thinkers at a seminar on Sunday, and called for immediate relaxation of the state of emergency to allow reforms within the political parties.

The major challenges ahead for democracy in Bangladesh are to ensure the functioning of institutions without political interference, democratic practice within parties to ensure collective leadership and justice, and recognition of equality for accommodating the aspirations of the commoners, they added. Brushing aside any special role of the military in democratic governance, Imtiaz Ahmed, teacher of International Relations in Dhaka University, proposed the formation of a Public Security Council dominated by civilians to determine the role of the armed forces for national purposes.

‘Intervention by the military in times of political crisis is not congenial for democracy. We have to develop innovative structures in society so that we do not go back to the political stalemate before January 11, 2007,’ he said at the launching ceremony of a book — ‘State of Democracy in South Asia’. Imtiaz led the team of experts who compiled the report in the book after surveys and studies in 2004-05, covering five South Asian countries — Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

‘The state of democracy was generally found to be fragile in all the countries,’ he later told reporters. Hossain Zillur Rahman, education and commerce adviser to the interim government, claimed that blanket immunity given to corrupt elements earlier had been broken in the past one year through the anti-corruption drive. ‘The culture of impunity has received a body blow,’ he told the audience at the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute. He, however, made it clear that the government had not retreated from its position on corruption while pursuing the goal of creating investors’ confidence.

Acknowledging the importance of vibrant political dialogues, the adviser maintained that wider issues such as social and behavioural ones must be included in the dialogue for effective transformation to functional democracy. The institute’s president, Farooq Sobhan, moderated the seminar which was also addressed by his brother and Centre for Policy Dialogue’s chairman Rehman Sobhan, and his wife Rawnak Jahan, a teacher at Columbia University in the USA. Rehman Sobhan was critical of the finding of the report that political parties in Bangladesh enjoy 55 per cent trust compared to 39 in India.

‘We are trusting the political parties unduly,’ he said, referring to the lack of intra-party democracy. Rawnak Jahan said that South Asia, unlike Western democracies, was following a form of democracy that was populist in nature but were not emphasising the necessary procedures such as rule of law. ‘It [state of democracy] goes against the expectation that democracy can be trusted to deliver development, security and dignity,’ read the synopsis of the book.

It mentioned that politics continued to be one of the most vibrant forces shaping contemporary South Asia. ‘Political organisations, from political parties to non-party formations, continue to attract a high degree of interest and involvement across the spectrum in politics and have the capacity not only to shape partisan loyalties and ideologies but also social identities and economic interests.’

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