The Challenges of Consolidating Democracy in Bangladesh
Rounaq Jahan and Rehman Sobhan
The December 2008 parliamentary elections once again gave Bangladesh opportunities for a democratic renewal. The two years (2007-2008) of a military backed civilian “caretaker” government after fifteen years of rule by political leaders elected through regular free and fair elections in 1991, 1996 and 2001, has underscored the fragility of democracy in Bangladesh. What steps is the new government of Sheikh Hasina, who won an overwhelming majority in the 2008 elections on the promise of Din Bodol (change) taking to fulfill her electoral pledge of bringing a qualitative change in politics and governance to strengthen the foundations of democracy in Bangladesh?
The presentation will provide a brief overview of the history of Bangladesh, analyze the major threats to democracy, underscore the problems of addressing these threats and highlight the dilemmas faced by the new government as it begins to tackle some of the long standing challenges of democratic consolidation.
The overarching challenge of “democratizing democracy” will be discussed at length which will include the issues of politics of exclusion and violence; politicization and partisanization of state institutions; criminalization of party and electoral politics; centralization of power; corruption; and weakness of accountability institutions.
The factors that contribute to strengthening of democracy will also be explored with a specific focus on the role of civil society and civil-political society relations.
Biographical Sketch - Professor Rounaq Jahan
Professor Rounaq Jahan is a Distinguished Fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue, Dhaka, Bangladesh and Adjunct Professor, International Affairs at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, New York, USA. She obtained a Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University, USA. She was a Professor of Political Science at Dhaka University, Bangladesh (1970-1982); Coordinator of the Women in Development Programme at UN Asia-Pacific Development Centre, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (1982-84); and Head of the Programme on Rural Women at the International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland (1985-89).
Professor Jahan is the author of several books and numerous articles. Her publications include: Bangladesh Politics, Dhaka: University Press Ltd., 2005; Bangladesh: Promise and Performance (editor), London Zed Books, 2000; The Elusive Agenda: Mainstreaming Women in Development, London, Zed Books, 1995; Bangladesh Politics: Problems and Issues, Dhaka: University Press Ltd., 1980; Women and Development: Perspectives from South and South East Asia (co-editor), Dhaka, Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs, 1979; and Pakistan: Failure in National Integration, New York: Columbia University Press, 1972.
In addition to academia, Professor Jahan is involved with the work of many civil society organizations. She is the founder of Women for Women, a research and study group in Bangladesh. She serves on the advisory board of Human Rights Watch: Asia and is the Convenor of the Advisory Board of Bangladesh Health Watch, a civil society network. She lives and works both in Bangladesh and the USA.