Pranab Kumar Panday
People are the ultimate source of power in a democratic form of government. Through the franchise, the people elect representatives who run the country on their behalf, and these officials make policy decisions following the law. For better or worse, this is how the democratic process works and how the democratic systems of various nations are governed. Despite Bangladesh being a democracy, the democratic process has not been institutionalised even after 50 years of independence. This is owing to a lack of electoral agreement among the political parties. Therefore, several catalysts, both domestically and internationally, have presented various statements on the government and democratic system of Bangladesh with the intention to undermine the government and the people of the country.
For months, discussions have centred on the remarks made by ambassadors from several foreign embassies in Bangladesh on the approaching 12th national parliament elections. Various foreign diplomats have made public statements on the internal politics of Bangladesh. The government has frequently voiced its disapproval of such views. However, despite protestations from the government, the ambassadors stood firm in their assertions. On December 6, there was the most recent such occurrence. On the eve of December 10, International Human Rights Day, diplomats from several nations stationed in Dhaka released a joint statement urging Bangladesh to hold free, fair, peaceful, and inclusive elections. Diplomats from the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, and Australia signed the declaration (Samakal, 7/12/2022).
In addition to the statement, on the same day, the foreign travel advisory of the United Kingdom advised the citizens of that country in Bangladesh to avoid political gatherings and large congregations, citing the fear of conflict between political parties and law enforcement forces around December 10. British citizens willing to travel to Bangladesh have been warned and asked to remain careful in Dhaka (Samakal, 7/12/2022).
Diplomats of different countries stationed in Bangladesh are partners in Bangladesh’s bilateral relations, but each relationship has its boundaries. When they cross that line, it is considered an act of diplomatic misconduct. Has any such incident happened or will happen in Bangladesh in the way that a country presented a statement around a particular party’s political gathering and warned its own country’s people against travelling to Bangladesh? No disagreement exists that a country’s government’s priority is its people’s safety. But it still needs to be determined whether the issue around which the warnings have been issued will become a security issue. Different political parties always organise different types of political meetings. This is the beauty of a democratic system. But making such a statement focused on a particular gathering can provide the wrong interpretation to everyone inside and outside the country.
It’s possible that many people would think it’s not appropriate for diplomats to meddle in Bangladesh’s domestic politics. From a rationalist’s point of view, it makes no sense at all. Some would claim that Bangladesh’s bilateral relationships give other nations the right to weigh in on the country’s domestic politics. However, I strongly disagree with those who argue this line, as international affairs and domestic politics are separate entities. Politics inside Bangladesh are ultimately up to the people there. No outside authority should be allowed to dictate the course of political events in Bangladesh.
A pertinent question is: why are the diplomats trying to keep their noses out of internal politics by presenting such statements? The main reason for this is that the political parties of Bangladesh have at various times requested diplomats to intervene in politics for their interests, which has created a culture where diplomats try to impose their views. The government must send a strong message that it seriously takes the issue of interference by diplomats in domestic politics. In light of such statements by diplomats from other countries, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs government has already sent a strong message. But such undesirable speech has not been stopped, which is not very pleasant for the country’s politics.
Bangladesh’s progress during the past decade in several areas is not attributable to the efforts of any one nation. Bangladesh’s people and government were able to put the nation on a firm economic foundation, transforming it from a “bottomless basket” to a “role model for progress. Foreign ambassadors making such remarks should not be encouraged ahead of the next elections. There is no denying that all nations at the international level can expect their friendly countries to be governed by democratic processes and fair elections. But making that expectation and giving an opinion about the internal politics of that country are entirely different things.
Bangladesh’s electoral woes did not arise overnight or even in a month. The current scenario is the outcome of decades of intolerance on the part of many political parties. As such, there is no alternative to holding elections encouraging widespread participation if we want to bring about a convergence of democratic systems. Just as the government party is responsible for that election, the opposition party also has that responsibility. Unreasonable demands from a political party that seeks to hinder the electoral process are unacceptable. It’s not acceptable if the government tries to seize power by means of rigged elections.
Therefore, all political parties will need to compromise in the next election if it is to be participatory. Those who have taken the initiative to humiliate the country by seeking help from foreigners should back step from such an effort. Meanwhile, people of varying political stripes ought to speak out against diplomats’ use of such language. The democratic process of a country cannot be consolidated by any unwarranted and immoral meddling from a foreign power. Instead, such practice will bring humiliation to the nation.
The writer is a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi
Courtesy: Daily Sun