The political landscape of Bangladesh, quite alarmingly, has come under domination and authority of a single party which, evidently, is hell-bent to stay in power, or so it seems. The Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina’s government has ruled the country for almost two terms in continuation and the opposition has become virtually non-existent. The main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by veteran politician, former Prime Minister and Sheikh Hasina’s main (and former) rival Khaleda Zia, has lost its foothold in the country’s parliament, the Jatiya Sangsad due to a very damaging political mistake in the year 2014 when it backed out of the general elections in protest against the government’s decision of not establishing a caretaker government for overseeing the general elections, alleging that the elections would not be free and fair under the Awami League government. The Jatiya Sangsad is now completely under control of the Awami League and only one official opposition party exists, the Jatiya Party.
Bangladesh among five countries wherein democracy has been constantly undermined and the country does not even meet the minimum standards for it to be called or classified as a democracy.
The events that have occurred in the last 5 years clearly stand out as examples of the suppression and eradication of the power and representation of the real opposition to the Awami League. The government has silenced its critics by various means, and not for good reasons. The government crackdown can be viewed as an attempt to create a single-party state, virtually if not theoretically. Single party rule in a country as dysfunctional and chaotic as Bangladesh, by default, is set to collapse or even ruin the country even further.
For evidently proving and bringing to light the devastation that can be(and has been) brought upon the country by an authoritarian and autocratic government, the incidents that have occurred over years of this party’s rule are listed and analysed further in this article. The incidents have been varying in their nature but all point to the application and enforcement of state machinery to suppress discerning opinions and opposition.
The government has been accused by various human rights groups of eliminating opposition members by means of forced ‘disappearances’ and politically motivated arrests, among other reprehensible tactics. Many victims have raised their voices but the incidents have not at all ceased. Shabnam Zaman, daughter of former Bangladesh ambassador to Qatar and Vietnam, Maroof Zaman, who disappeared after being accused of publishing an “anti-government” post on social media, said,” My father has been missing since December 4.” On March 13 this year, Jakir Hossain, a member of Chatra Dal, the BNP’s student wing, died in police custody after he was allegedly tortured by the police.
Asif Nazrul, a professor of law at Dhaka University, made a serious allegation or stated a fact that the BNP and other opposition parties are denied permission to hold rallies and processions “on security grounds”, while the Awami League continues to hold large rallies in the run-up to the elections. This further solidifies the assertion that infers that Bangladesh has transformed, for the worse, into a single-party autocracy from a democracy. Many observers also contend that the authoritarian rule of Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh will land a devastating blow to the already weak and crippled democracy in the country.
The increasing influence of Islam is also distressing. Many scholars have reasoned, with evidence, that the secular fabric of Bangladesh’s constitution is in danger, while others say the fabric has already been damaged.
The government, although has received recognition and praise for its support to the Rohingya refugees, continues to receive flak for the domestic human rights situation which is critically worrisome. Khaleda Zia’s imprisonment and the following related occurrences have triggered mass protests by the opposition, all of which have been suppressed. Police records confirm the arrests of more than 300 leaders and members of the BNP on the day of the verdict in which Zia was sentenced to five years in prison. Also, it is worth noting that since February alone, 3000 arrests have been made of opposition party members. Although, the conviction and subsequent imprisonment of Zia was a result of the corrupt practices that she was involved in but the timing of the verdict and imprisonment is questionable when the previous election cycle is analysed. In 2013, before the general elections, Zia was placed under house arrest by the Awami League government which resulted in a huge loss for the BNP. The intentions of the Awami League have, arguably, been malign because there’s no evidence to the contrary.
To further solidify, support and add credibility to the opinion and view that supports the inference that the country of Bangladesh is transforming, or already has, into an authoritative or autocratic regime, the observation made by a German think-tank, Bertelsmann Foundation, is worth citing. A report published by the foundation lists Bangladesh among five countries wherein democracy has been constantly undermined and the country does not even meet the minimum standards for it to be called or classified as a democracy.
For a country like Bangladesh, drenched in poverty, corruption and maladministration, it is constructive and crucial for its leaders to follow the policy of economic development and good governance. Although, Bangladesh’s GDP has been growing at an impressive rate of over 7 percent, the government has not been a major accelerator behind this achievement. The policy adopted by the Awami League government is yet to effectively deal with the problem of governance because it is too fixated on suppressing the opposition and establishing a quasi-one party order. This structure can only be maintained over a long span of time through various unethical, unconstitutional malpractices. This will result in political violence, human rights violations and other forms of dreadful incidents.
Writer: Journalist and Geopolitical Analyst