A phase of transition?

Afsan Chowdhury | Published: 00:00, Jan 30,2019


BANGLADESH is in a fascinating phase of its political journey as class cohesiveness becomes greater than intra-class party politics. After almost 50 years of mixed political experiences, the ruling/upper class appears to be more decisive about consolidating its hold on power. The preferred ruling class governance model may also be appearing as 2018 ends.
The elections of 2018 should not be seen as a contest between two political clusters but between two wings of the same political cluster. It would be difficult to detect any major difference between the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist party on socio-economic policies. During the electioneering period, policy issues were significantly secondary to alliance members.
There is not much to discuss anyway as both parties follow the same economic system — connection capitalism — based on several networks, some discreet, some connected. The debate was, therefore, on Jamaat-e-Islami or alliance with enemies of 1971. Even within the BNP-led front and its allies, this was a major issue.
It would have seemed that the incumbency factor weighs in, in almost all elections, but in this case, it did not matter and the Awami League managed to sweep home in a way that was unexpected. While AL leaders, who include the prime minister, have spent time explaining that the victory was absolutely expected and well deserved, some doubts in some do exist. This could be because from the political electoral mood, the extreme results were unexpected. However, the results are the final word.
Stakeholders’ elections, not just politicians’
THE main issue is the importance of many stakeholders in the elections and the nature of the ruling class segments that hold such stakes. These segments or layers are now increasingly playing greater roles in politics which is now closely linked to administration and governance. We are actually seeing the maturing of a state political management system that is not the exclusive domain of the full-time party politicians.
The four main layers or partners of the ruling class are the army, bureaucracy including the police, the business people and the politicians, but the last named are not in the forefront. However, this time around, the loyalty of the elements was on public display minus the army which is not affected by any regime changes. The second tier, that is the bureaucracy, was on full display with former officials and former police personnel as formally political players by declaration of allegiance as a group. The en masse display of the past institution members means that such loyalties had been on for a while.
Having been a partner of the ruling class for a decade, this is only natural. After all, one cannot serve as an antagonistic bureaucrat in this governance system. So, when the same cluster rules for a significant period of time, this coalition is inevitable.

Decline of constituency-based politics?
THE other clusters seem to be very important in a growth-driven economy that is also not equitable. Administrators are now more critical than the politicians — least quite a few eminent ones — who are on hindsight seem to be seen as burdens. The swiftness with which the prime minister ended their careers and dealt a new hand of cards, discarding all the older politicians, showed that as a group, they are of limited value. So, when they were asked to go, they went even without a whimper. Having a constituency is not always clout now.
The decision by the prime minister must have been taken on behalf of the entire ruling class which is headed by the prime minister. It speaks of cohesion and tough decision-making capacity to ensure the flourishing of the entire class, not just politicians who won the seats.
The current ruling class also sees no advantage in internal struggle when there is no material difference in policies but mostly in history and alliances. In what was an emotive encounter about managing the past, the two parties showed that the current and future vision they offer are largely the same. In that case, changing a horse in the midway cannot be justified? Of what value does the BNP offer when the ruling class is already in a comfortable relationship with the Awami League and read each other well?
Within this ruling alliance, the brand of politicians has dwindled. The have come to be seen as expendable and ‘electoral victories’ have not been enough to ensure their power. It seems that the fourth and most vulnerable layer — politicians — as a whole is less in priority than before, perhaps. One reason, of course, is the plentiful supply of politicians available on the market that makes the demand-supply equation unfair for them.
In other words, the class has spoken and not the party and in the future that is being made, a new configuration is on where the top layers may have more shots to call than the bottom one. The traditional politician-led politics may be evolving into new forms.

Afsan Chowdhury is a journalist and researcher.

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