voice for democracy

Democracy and good governance – newagebd.net

Tuesday, September 21, 2021
Monwarul Islam | Published: 00:00, Sep 21,2021
THERE is no intrinsic relation between democracy, a long-standing governance concept, and good governance. Democracy, which etymologically means the rule of people, is as varied in application as can be thought of. A study finds that democracy, in theory and in application, takes as many as 2,200 adjectives, adequately suggesting the shades and hues that democracy can put on.
When the origin of democracy and the core meaning of the concept still retain some attachment of ‘direct democracy’ — the direct participation of people in decision-making that is — democracy, in practice, has often been devoid of its lofty ideals and has been reduced to a loosely-defined system that might even accommodate the rule of law, on the one hand, and authoritarianism, on the other. In practice, democracy has been as widely exploited as any other forms of governance can be.
In today’s world, when democracy holds an absolute sway as the most dominant political philosophy and the predominant form of governance, democracy is distanced and derailed from what the political concept used to signify. When demos, the people, are reduced to occasional voters, with effectively no right to intervene in decision-making, even when the representatives that people elect in a ‘representative democracy’ like ours do not deliver on their promises and go on to take and implement starkly anti-people mandate, does democracy cease to exist?
The concept of representative democracy, liberal democracy or a republic that stipulates that people will elect their representatives, who, when elected, would act on behalf of, and for the betterment of, people and that the representatives will work within the checks and balances provided by the constitution and the law appears to have been a futile concept too. With a glaring violation of people’s rights by the very representatives that people elect and the helplessness of people in the face of such violation tell a sad story the world over.
When the idea and ideals of democracy advocate a form of government that is mandated by people without fear or coercion, the forms of democracy that are in practice in different parts of the world, including Bangladesh, have been undemocratic in view of the very foundation. People are offered candidates and parties to vote for in elections that denounce choices a priori, with the formation of political parties and the selection of candidates that people have nothing to say about. Even wonderfully functioning democracies in the world are largely a two-party political system, where demos can, at best, choose the parties and individuals to be ruled, not represented, by.
In a constitutional democracy, it is expected and believed that there will be constitutional and legal limits and checks to make the governing bodies and public agencies accountable and transparent. It is intended that the constitution and the law would define and guide the way to peace and prosperity and that the constitution would ensure everyone’s right to social dignity, justice and equality. While all this have always been there as the cornerstone of governance, what comes to worry us is that legal and constitutional bindings are often dodged by both the elected representatives and the bureaucrats to promote business and personal interests.
It, therefore, comes with little surprise that a growing number of policies do not now represent the interests of people. They rather negatively impact the well-being of people. Most policies now represent the interests of businesses, which have found their way to the government. The growing dominance of the business elite in Bangladesh’s politics and the influence of the business bodies on state organs and policy-making have severely weakened the democratic institutions and practices over the years. According to a Transparency International Bangladesh study, businessmen accounted for about 17.5 per cent of the members of parliament in the first parliament in 1973–1975, and the figure has increased to a whopping 62 per cent in the 11th parliament.
Business interests, as a result, appear to have come to be the de facto driving force in politics, society and the government, suggesting a dangerous takeover of politics by the business elite turning democracy to what social scientists term as ‘corporate state’. What is further worrying is that the country has experienced a precarious waning of the political space. With democracy having been reduced to elections, that too highly manipulated elections as is evident in the past two general elections and a number of elections to the local government, and with demos turned to be occasional voters, the country is faced with a political void where demos are as distanced from policy-making as can be. Also worrying is the growing pattern of criminalisation of dissenting voices in an attempt apparently to silence any opposition to the government and government policies, while such opposition is deemed to be highly essential in a functioning democracy. Such criminalisation of dissent, a distancing of demos from political processes, coupled with a deep-seated carelessness and an increasing political demobilisation of the citizenry, appear to have helped the business elite to come to a political form and, eventually, to control, reconstitute and monopolise the centre of power, leading to a surge in corruption and anti-people and business-friendly policies.
A system where the interests of the capital rules over the interests of people, democracy is at best a trick to make people believe that they hold some power and is a way to earn political legitimacy for a political class that exchanges its robe almost indistinguishably with the business elite. Although redundant, it is absolutely necessary to point out repeatedly that democracy does not work and ceases to be whenever it goes against the wish of the people and whenever it distances people from making and implementing policies. When people’s well-being and human rights are reduced to a neglected footnote, when people’s voting power is highly compromised and when policies hardly represent people’s concerns, democracy ceases to be.
Monwarul Islam is an editorial assistant at New Age.
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Editor: Nurul Kabir, Published by the Chairman, Editorial Board ASM Shahidullah Khan on behalf of Media New Age Ltd.
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