The Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami are the principal crisis of democracy in Bangladesh, the Awami League’s presidium member and member of parliament Muhammad Faruk Khan tells Moloy Saha in an interview with New Age
New Age: What is the principal crisis of democracy in Bangladesh?
Muhammad Faruk Khan: The Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami are the principal crisis of democracy in Bangladesh. These two parties have no principles and they behave in an undemocratic way. A political party must have some principles and move ahead with the people.
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?
Muhammad Faruk Khan: I think the next general elections, which are the 11th, would be inclusive with active participation of all political parties. The elections will be also violence-free. Elections will be inclusive as the people believe and feel the need for such elections. But I am doubtful about the role of the recently floated political alliance of some parties which are going ahead with unconstitutional demands.
They are doing this even knowing that their demands were not worthy to be met. Some in the partners in the new alliance have in the past tried to hatch conspiracies and thwart elections as well as the democratic process of the country.
They are yet to say anything clearly about their participation in the elections. I still doubt whether they would take part in the elections. Some leaders of the alliance have never won any support of voters when they took part in elections in the past.
But there are some positive aspects that I have noticed during the past Eid. Although the main leadership of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party is yet to make any decision about joining the next elections, the rank and file of the political party is making preparation to take part in the elections. They went to their electorates at the time of Eid and held campaigns and mass contacts.
As for issues that are prime conditions for making the elections inclusive, the political parties in the opposition should consider that the next general elections would be held keeping to constitutional provisions. The Election Commission will conduct the elections and the Awami League-led government will supervise the affair. Moreover, at the time of elections, the government will perform only routine duties and will not take make any major policy decisions.
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?
Muhammad Faruk Khan: The next general elections would be held in a peaceful manner as the people also want to participate in elections peacefully. The elections will be free of violence as the BNP-Jamaat alliance has understood that they failed to stop elections even by carrying out violence during last general elections. Besides, the law enforcers are more efficient now and they have proved their capability in facing militancy.
I also hope that no major violence would not take place in and around polling stations in the next general elections because the law enforcers are now more equipped to contain violence.
Foreign countries and the international community are saying that they want the next general elections to be participatory and peaceful, in a violence-free atmosphere, whenever they are talking to us or the parties in the opposition.
New Age: Elections are, indeed, primary conditions for democracy. What, in your view, are the other factors that make democratic practice meaningful?
Muhammad Faruk Khan: Yes, elections are, indeed, the primary condition for democracy, but they are not the only factor. There are other factors such as ensuring people’s participation in the decision-making process, working for the betterment of people, ensuring their rights and standing with the people which are also prime conditions for a democratic system.
These are what we, the Awami League and its alliance members, are doing. The government presided over by the Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina is working to make democratic practices meaningful. Our government is carrying out development works in the country to make it a developed country.
As a four-time parliamentarian in 1996–2014, I have seen that the BNP has failed both in the opposition and as a ruling party in these areas. I will rather say that the Jatiya Party is successful in the opposition in comparison with the BNP as an opposition party.
The Jatiya Party actively took part in the parliament process; it made constructive criticism of the government and the laws that were passed in the parliament.
The leader of the opposition in the parliament actively took part in discussions and asked the prime minister questions. Khaleda Zia has never done this. She usually walked out of the parliament and never spoke on behalf of the people.
In a democratic country, the parliament should be functional. Our prime minster Sheikh Hasina took steps to make the current parliament functional. She attends the parliament regularly and forms the parliamentary standing committees. Members of parliament from the Jatiya Party, led by Hussein Muhammad Ershad, has cooperated with us in this.
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?
Muhammad Faruk Khan: I disagree with you on this point that Bangladesh’s constitution allows ‘electoral autocracy’ in that it provides the scope for a single person to be the head of the executive as well as the legislative and thus enable him/her to influence the judiciary.
I think that parliamentary democracy revolves around the leader of the elected people’s representatives. In parliamentary democracy, prime minster is head of the government as the chief of the executive and leader of the house at the same time. This is how the process works.
I do not think the executive or the legislative of our country has ever tried to influence the judiciary in past five years. We had differences of opinion with the judiciary on one occasion regarding the 16th amendment to the constitution. That time, we both made our respective positions clear. It is the norm across the world. According to our constitution, the parliament has the final say on any issues. You cannot call this ‘electoral autocracy’. But I will tell you one thing: if the standard of democracy improves in the country, the separation of power will be more visible.
New Age: What kind of constitutional reforms would you propose to democratise the state’s constitution and governance?
Muhammad Faruk Khan: I do think that there is still scope for making some amendments to the constitution to make it more pro-people. I also think that the ruling party should share power. I believe that you have noticed that our government has tried to share power with the opposition. After 2009, we offered the BNP chairperson some vital parliamentary standing committees but the offer was refused.
This time, we have also made chairs of some parliamentary standing committees from the Jatiya Party. But the opposition should also show a democratic attitude. We will show a democratic attitude and you will answer that with bomb blasts. How can this be possible?
The BNP, when it was in power in 2004, tried to kill top leaders of the Awami League, which was then in the opposition, including the party’s president Sheikh Hasina in a grenade attack on a rally on Bangabandhu Avenue in front of its central office on August 21. The BNP tried to strip the Awami League of leaders. After the assumption of office in 2009, we did not put all the accused behind bars. The court gave them the full chance to defend themselves.
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?
Muhammad Faruk Khan: One of the principles of democracy is that the government will ensure its transparency and its accountability to people. Our government took steps to be accountable to the people.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina regularly takes part in the question-answer session in the parliament and answers questions from the opposition as part of her and the government’s accountability to the people.
But democracy has no unique definition. Each country has its own system of democratic reformation. I think that the democratic model in adoption in the United States and the United Kingdom will not be effective in Bangladesh. The United States, the United Kingdom and other western countries helped to bring about the Arab Spring in the region as part of their efforts to ensure a democratic system in the region. But what have we seen? Let us take the example of Egypt. Egypt under [Muhammad] Hosni [El Sayed] Mubarak was progressing fast. But western communities became critical of Mubarak as they did not see democracy in Egypt. And they brought about the Arab Spring.
The result: Muslim Brotherhood leader [Mohamed] Morsi took over. Morsi made some changes in the constitution and made Egypt as Islamic extremist state. Within two years, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi removed Morsi from office in a coup d’état that took place in 2013. At least 10,000 people were killed. The point is: all this happened as Egypt was not ready for the western model of democracy.
I think that Bangladesh is also not ready for the western model of democracy as about 30 to 40 per cent of people are still illiterate. They do not understand all this. But what is positive is that the people believe in democracy and most of the politicians are also in favour of the system. We need a democratic system that is suitable for us and does not follow other models.
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