Political parties, in spite of their differences, should create and practice a culture of democracy in which they would allow each others to speak and criticise, a Jatiya Party presidium member and parliament member for Dhaka-6 constituency, Kazi Firoz Rashid tells Shahidul Islam Chowdhury in an interview with New Age
New Age: What is the principal crisis of democracy in Bangladesh?
Kazi Firoz Rashid: The severe lack of mutual confidence, faith and respect for each other, between political parties, is the principal crisis of democracy in Bangladesh. A political leader cannot be raised in a day. It takes time, a lot of time. Today, we harass politicians without any hesitation and we don’t feel guilty about doing it!
New laws are enacted that the government employees cannot be arrested without prior permission from high offices. However, politicians could be arrested, handcuffed and produced in court with ropes around their wait, and other [politicians] seem to be satisfied at such gestures and clap.
How do you expect democratic environment to flourish, if you try to destroy another political party? There were state sponsored attempts to kill the-then leader of the opposition on August 21  — with that incident the possibility of democratic growth of the nation was buried and sent to grave.
We have been in a vicious path of ‘one step forward, two steps backward’ as there is no continuation of the spirit of the 1990 mass-movement. We have been stuck in this political situation.
In democracy, I believe, we need tremendous patience and mutual respect for each other.
New Age: Do you think that the next general elections are going to be inclusive, with all political parties actively taking part? What are the prime conditions for making elections inclusive?
Kazi Firoz Rashid: I believe all major political parties would join the elections. There are signs of greater participation as we political parties are forming new alliances.
There have been talks about level playing field. In fact, it is a relative issue. If a field, the situation is acceptable for one political party, others would complain that are denied privileges to engage in the political process in equal footing. In the case of 1991 general election, political situation was not favourable for us [Jatiya Party], but we still contested and got a reasonable number of seats in the parliament.
My point is the political parties should join in all elections to allow people to make their choices. The most popular party will win at the end of the day.
New Age: Do you think that there would be a violence-free environment in and around polling stations, enabling voters to exercise their right to franchise freely? What are the conditions to create a congenial political atmosphere in which people would feel free to vote for candidates of their choice?
Kazi Firoz Rashid: Although, we hold vote in thousands of polling stations in a single day, we see less violence in Bangladesh compared to the elections in neighbouring India.
We [political parties] need to create an atmosphere so that our voters feel encouraged and assured to come to the polls. You cannot expect a common congenial political atmosphere as the country is fully divided into two political camps — Awami League and anti-Awami League. Politicians, teachers and journalists are also divided accordingly.
My point is people should come to the polling stations to exercise their voting right. I shouldn’t expect a good atmosphere keeping myself confined in my own comfort zone.
New Age: Elections are, indeed, primary conditions for democracy. What, in your view, are the other factors that make democratic practice meaningful?
Kazi Firoz Rashid: Election is one of several elements to achieve democracy. All political parties must maintain accountability and behave responsibly. That does not exclude the ruling party, the government, and the political parties in opposition. There must be continuity of some policies and development processes as no political party is permanent in the government. When in power, Bangladesh Nationalist Party had cancelled the Upazila system introduced by HM Ershad for decentralisation and strengthening of the local government system. It was a wrong decision on BNPs part. The Awami League government has reintroduced it and getting benefit of that.
New Age: Bangladesh’s constitution allows ‘electoral autocracy’ in that it provides the scope for a single person to head the state’s executive as well as legislative branches, leaving scope to influence the judiciary. Don’t you think that just credible elections are not enough, under such constitutional regime, to move towards democratic governance?
Kazi Firoz Rashid: Of course. I totally agree. It is not democracy when we hold elections to keep a person in power for 25 years at a stretch, electing him or her for five consecutive terms. It is not democracy. We must nurture democratic practices. We should not expect democratic governance while destroying beauties of democracy, such as tolerance, mutual respect, freedom of expression, and listening to others.
It is not expected that the opposition would always criticise the government. However, it is also important to allow the opposition to criticise misdeeds of the government. You would not know your own faults unless you allow others to speak and criticise you. The government should remain tolerant and prepared to accept criticism. This culture is absent here.
Here, we have seen only one change since 1991 that is the introduction of the parliamentary form of government replacing the presidential system. Was it really a reform as they [Awami League and BNP] have just renamed the head of the government and delegated all power to the prime minister?
New Age: What kind of constitutional reforms would you propose to democratise the state’s constitution and governance?
Kazi Firoz Rashid: We need a broad constitutional reform for establishing a democratic culture. We also need an environment to nurture it by creating avenues to speak and to criticise. Both the ruling and the opposition parties should learn it, practice it.
We have been fully deprived of democratic atmosphere since journalists too are sadly polarised, divided in line with two political camps. This division among journalists is an unfortunate outcome of our political process.
New Age: Successive governments — elected, half-elected or unelected — have always been busy making all kinds of efforts, legal and extralegal, to make people accountable to the state and the government. How could the state and the governments be made accountable to people?
Kazi Firoz Rashid: The absence of a culture of accountability to the people has become persistent. We need to develop and practice this culture.
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