Bangladesh

Outlines of democratic government: Lesson from 1990

democratic

Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir

MNA Editorial Desk: Bangladesh from its birth in 1971 started the journey as a democratic country. In spite of that, we have gone through several ups and downs in maintaining that stature and even after 47 years of independence, we cannot confidently claim that full democratic practice exists in Bangladesh. After brutal killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, Bangladesh was practically ruled by autocratic military leaders for 15 years which had pulled us significantly backward to establish democracy in our beloved country according to our constitution. After democracy was restored in 1990, the autocratic military leadership was eliminated but democracy could not be restored fully though it could have.

Prior to Bangladesh’s independence, Bangabandhu participated in the 1970’s national and state assembly election under the reign of then West Pakistani military junta. He fought those elections based on his 6 point movement which outlined the freedom of the then East Pakistanis. 6 point movement was simultaneously a policy guideline, a political outline, a revolutionary call and the base of forming an independent country named Bangladesh.Sheikh Mujibur Rahman clinched the victory under the banner of his party Awami League in both national and state assembly elections. 6 point demands drew this victory for him and later for the 75 million Bangladeshis. Hence it acted as an important document even in establishing the first constitution of the independent Bangladesh in 1972.

Democracy faced critical challenges in Bangladesh within a very short time. Due to increasing unrest and violence from the armed revolution plotted by Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) and anti-liberation forces, Bangabandhu had to shift from parliamentary government system to presidential government system in 1975.

Though he had to make this change to save the country and the fellow countrymen, it was definitely a shock for democratic practice in Bangladesh. Even after Bangabandhu’s death, the government of late President Ziaur Rahman and later that of former President HM Ershad followed the same policy and full autocratic military regime sustained for 15 long years. Through huge protest and movement, the Ershad government was brought down from power in 1990 and once again democracy was restored after a long time.

Similarly as the 6 point demands, in 1990 an outline was developed for the democratic government which was jointly  prescribed by the Awami League led 8-party alliance, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led 7-party alliance and 5-party alliance of the leftist parties. Hence it was known as the three-alliance outline of 1990 for democratic government.

Restoring democracy in 1990 was guided by this provided outline. It had immense importance at that time as it not only provided guidelines for the democratic government but also for the political parties and their members. If followed properly, no chance of political conflict, violence, clash was there but sadly that did not happen and democracy still looking for its ways in Bangladesh. The three-alliance outline for democratic government of 1990 was expressed as a joint declaration containing basically two areas — one was the main declaration and the other was a code of conduct.

The main declaration consisted of few demands like; to establish full democracy and democratic rule after freeing the country from the autocratic Ershad regime continuing the constitutional flow by forcing him to step down and handing over the power to an acceptable person who would act as Deputy President with main responsibility to form an interim caretaker government to conduct a free and fair election within three months. It was suggested as a procedure to shift the power from an autocratic regime to a democratic government to bring in transparency in the process though there was no option of a caretaker government in our constitution but it was the requirement of time considering the prevailing situation.

Regarding the caretaker government, it was said that, the head of the caretaker government would be an unbiased and non-party personnel who cannot be attached to any party directly or indirectly. Hence, he would not be able to take part in the elections. Moreover, the interim government would carry on the daily works of the administration along with reforming the election commission and reassign the activities and responsibilities with an objective to arrange a free and fair election. Along with that, demand was placed to make all mass media independent and autonomous institution to make those unbiased to ensure the opportunity of campaign of all competing political parties in those media. Another guideline was that, the caretaker government would hand over the power to the sovereign elected parliament formed through a free and fair election and the government would be bound to answer to that parliament.

The last statement of the main declaration was to keep the constitutional rule absolute and continuing based on the people’s recognition of sovereignty. It also stated to protest any attempt to capture power through any unconstitutional way. Without election, with no cause the elected government could be thrown out of power through any unconstitutional means. Moreover, preservation of people’s basic rights, freedom and non-biasness of judiciary and rule of law would be ensured. It also mentioned that all laws contradicting the basic rights would be eliminated.

The code of conduct part of the declaration provided a set of guidelines for all the political parties and relevant entities. Like; the political parties of the three alliances would ensure mutual respect and tolerance to the opinions of each other in their electoral speeches and activities. The political parties would also always work for awakening democratic ideology among the party activists. Moreover, these parties would always put efforts so that all of them publicize their opinions and characteristics freely and lawfully. For that, they would jointly take steps so that the offices, public meetings, gatherings, demonstrations of these political parties are not under attack.

It also stated, the parties of these three alliances would refrain from spreading personal defamatory remarks on other party members and also would not ill comment on the patriotism and religious beliefs of the other parties. These political parties would not allow communalism and would jointly resist communal publicity. Moreover, they would not include any identified associates of the autocratic Ershad regime in their parties. The political parties of the three alliances were committed to avoiding clashes in electoral activities. They would also be alert so that the voters can cast their votes freely and discipline and peace exists in the polling centres. They would also not influence the administration or the law enforcement agencies for their own interests in the election and would put an effort to keep the administration unbiased. Alongside, they would work to protect the free and unbiased role of the mass media and would jointly resist any published false and confusion creating news.

This code of conduct also stated that, if any provocative incident occurs for the free and fair democratic election, then steps would be taken to solicit that issue with immediate discussions. To follow this regulation at all levels, permanent steps would be taken for national and area based liaisons.

To ensure proper and free voting rights on the date of the election, they recommended to ensure governance on proper distribution of ballot paper at all election area, to finalise the result at the polling centres at end of vote casting and to submit attested copies of the centre’s results to the polling agents of the candidates, to combine the results and to prevent any dishonesty and threats of media coup in declaring and publicising the results, to maintain the neutralism of the administration and to arrange for peaceful environment at the polling centres, to take strict preventive measures in resisting vote rigging and corruption and to ensure effective following of the guidelines related to the limit of candidates’ fixed electoral expenses.

Lastly, it expressed the political parties of these three alliances would take the democratic process in the country forward by accepting the mass verdict in the election.

Based on this outline, an election was held in March, 1991, which was acceptable to all for its free and fare nature. But the code of conduct part was completely ignored later as identified associates of Ershad along with so many representatives of the anti-liberation forces was included in several parties, political parties engaged in personal attacks and defamation, political clashes and violence erupted, communalism entered politics, peace became extinct, elections were rigged and many thing else.

Therefore the political harmony was compromised especially after inclusion of Jamaat-e Islami, an anti-liberation war force, in BNP-led alliance in the election of 2001. All these actually did not allow the democratic practices to fully settle in Bangladesh even after so many years.

We are confident that 1990’s democratic government’s outline of three alliances provided a comprehensive guidelines to establish democratic practices and to administer peaceful and healthy political processes in Bangladesh. But almost all of us including our politicians completely forgot that outline. It is a crying need that we re-implement the suggestions of that outline and put our faith on those. If that happens, all Bangladeshi citizens can be rest assured to enjoy the benefits of democracy fully and we are looking forward to that.

The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA) and Vice-Chairman, Democracy Research Centre (DRC).

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