Depoliticisation gnaws at the heart of democracy

Published: 00:00, Jan 05,2021


DEPOLITICISATION has worryingly come to be a governing strategy in the country rendering the character of decision-making, of public agencies and, above all, the government largely undemocratic and unresponsive to people’s demands for over a decade. With a gradual decline in the number of politicians in parliament, a lack of oppositional political activism inside and outside parliament, a rising trend of criminalising political activism and dissent and an absence of credible electoral process are, as experts say, believed to have contributed to depoliticisation. Detrimental to any country, depoliticisation is believed to always create a vacuum in the political space that often gets filled up by radical and dangerous elements. What is gravely worrying in Bangladesh today is that a sort of a managed democracy appears to have taken a complete sway over all political entities and processes. For example, the growing dominance of the business elite in the country’s politics and the influence of the business bodies over state organs and policy-making have weakened the democratic institutions and the state organs over the years. According to the Transparency International Bangladesh, businessmen constituted 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 eleventh 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 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 the demos turned to, at best, occasional voters, the country is, as experts say, faced with a political void where the 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 policy, while such opposition is deemed to be highly essential in a functioning democracy. Such a criminalisation of dissent, a distancing of the demos from the 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 to eventually control, reconstitute and monopolise the centre of power, leading to a surge in corruption and anti-people and business-friendly policies.

The incumbents and the political parties must realise the adverse impact of depoliticisation of society and political demobilisation of the citizenry. The government must understand that democracy is what reflects, and is informed by, the wishes of the demos — the people — and that dissent and oppositional political activism characterise a well-functioning democracy. All political parties must, under the circumstances, make a course correction and ensure intra-party democratic practices to not let the business elite establish a monopoly in the parties. The government must also not let the state organs be held hostages by business bodies and must prioritise people’s rights and facilitate people’s participation in the political processes. On top of these all, the government must provide space to the opposition forces for political activism.

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