There will be differences, divergence and conflict in politics. Even when the political scene is calm and consensus prevails, it is only natural that there will be a fair share of differences and debate. However, in many countries of the third world, these differences lead to violent conflict, placing the common people at risk.
In Bangladesh, political differences are sharp and often lead to violent outbursts. There is a glaring lack of consensus among political parties, even on issues of national interest, though ironically the two major parties are similar in their power-centric politics and activities.
These conflicts exist not only among the different parties, but within the parties themselves, particularly whichever party is in government at the time.
Political conflict hits our socio-economic progress and if things continue thus, we are likely to face a serious crisis ahead. The nature and cause of such violent conflict must be determined if it is to be resolved.
Political conflict is on a steady rise in Bangladesh. The war crimes trial and the elections to the tenth national parliament gave rise to extreme violence and over 500 people died in clashes from 2013 to January 2014.
Many deaths took place in 2015, with petrol bomb attacks and other violence.
Over the past three years many persons were killed and seriously injured, and their property and assets were damaged, during the various local government elections. These were mostly due to clashes within ruling Awami League (AL) itself. During the last union parishad election alone, about 150 persons lost their lives, almost all AL activists and supporters. Further deaths took place in clashes within AL and its student front Chhatra League.
Why has political violence escalated?
Our relentless democratic deficit is the main cause of this conflict. Democratic rule has many features, firstly a free, fair and credible election. A one-sided election cannot be a credible one. An election involves contest, where the voters have alternative choices of candidates. Today our election system lies in shambles.
Secondly, in a democratic order, citizens are guaranteed certain rights as enunciated in the constitution. These include freedom of speech, the right to form associations and to assemble, religious freedom and the right to personal liberty. These rights are rapidly shrinking in our country and human rights are being blatantly violated.
Thirdly, democracy entails separation of power. There is space for different views and voices. In short, there can be no democracy without the existence of an opposition and a vocal civil society. Leaders of Ershad’s Jatiya Party are in the opposition in parliament as well as in the cabinet, making for a completely ineffective system.
In the case of government oppression and repression, the main opposition party BNP is in a fragile state. Various pressures from within and outside have also pitched the existence of the civil society into crisis.
Fourthly, accountability is another characteristic of democracy. This is of two kinds, election liability and institutional accountability. The transparency and accountability of elected representatives and of officials are ensured by these active institutions. These institutions can be constitutional, regulated or non-governmental. In our country these institutions are extremely weak and cannot play an effective role in resolving political conflict.
Fifthly, in a democratic system, particularly one based on the Westminster model, the opposition is part of the government. But in our country, it’s the ‘winner-take-all’ system that has evolved. It is a ‘parti-archy’ culture where allegiance to the party is all important. Members of the opposition are not only deprived, but also suffer insecurity, harassment and repression. That is why the opposition is in such a predicament in this country.
Violence is the inevitable fallout of the prevailing circumstances. Presently there is an apparent lull in the unrest, but it is more like sitting on a ticking bomb. It may explode into instability at anytime.
‘Rent’ and extortion has further exacerbated intra-party conflict with a decentralisation of this ‘rent’ and underhand earnings of those in power. In the past, especially during the autocratic military rule, such rent-seeking was centralised. But with the revival of democracy in 1990, this began to be decentralised. At present there is a widespread propensity to be aligned with the ruling party to reap various benefits, both lawful and unlawful. This system creates an unhealthy competition within the party among all those vying for ‘lucrative’ party posts, leading to uncontrolled violence.
This culture of opportunism has created a crisis in leadership. Over the last few years many undeserving persons have amassed huge amounts of wealth. Many of them are ‘buying’ posts at local and national levels of leadership. Politics is being made into a business and business is being politicised. The state machinery works more in business interests than public interests.
It is clear that inter party and intra party overt and covert conflict is on the rise. Our weak institutions have failed to address this problem. A section of vested interest quarters as well as religious extremists are taking full advantage of this instability. They are creating fertile grounds for extremism. The government’s oppression and suppression promotes sympathy for the extremists.
If the society is to be rid of extremism, then political conflict must be curtailed immediately. Opportunism must end. This calls for political understanding which can lead to the establishment of a genuine and effective democratic system.