On democratic autocracy

On democratic autocracy

The concepts of democracy and autocracy are apparently contradictory. Democracy is a system of government where people elect their representatives to govern the country in away that reflects people’s views, hopes and aspirations. On the other hand, autocracy refers to an authoritarian and despotic form of governance that generally neglects the interests of the majority of the people. Democratic government can be either parliamentary or presidential – United Kingdom is a parliamentary form of government while the United States has presidential system. India follows the parliamentary system so does Bangladesh

At issue is not the system of government, rather the behaviour of government. A country is governed by a select group of people (they may come to power through elections) and the way a country is governed is what matters and that characterises the real system of governance. Since the independence of Bangladesh successive governments in Bangladesh have been democratically elected, except the military rules under Ziaur Rahman and Hussain Mohammad Ershad. After coming to power through military coup, both Zia and Ershad formed political parties to continue to remain in power.

Unfortunately Bangladesh has virtually experienced autocratic rules since independence, virtually dictated by one person be they prime ministers or presidents. While elections are a means to democratic rule, elections may mean nothing to the general mass if those in power behave like autocrats or dictators. Elections have become just an instrument to grab power, exercise undue authority, persecute the opposition and make money. Government has become a money-making machine over which quarrels occur between diverse sections of people in the society.

Sometimes the opposing forces become united when their narrow common interests are served – an example being the recent passing of bills in Bangladesh parliament allowing members of parliament (MPs) to import duty-free cars and exercising some form of overriding authority in the affairs of Upazilla Parishads, which undermines the principles local government. Both sides of parliament, Awami League led grand alliance and the BNP led four party alliance trumpeted the drums when these bills were passed, so to speak! Self-serving politicians indeed!!

In autocracy, we often find revenge taken by the incumbent government against the leaders and members of the previous government. This has become a cycle in Bangladesh – when BNP was in power they tried to harass Awami League leaders and activists and now Awami League is behaving the same way against the BNP leader and other members of the previous government.

Autocratic behavior of rulers thrives on sycophancy and flattery. A group of so-called intellectuals and cultural personalities dovetail around those in power and eulogise their activities in a way that borders on servility and is bereft of any conscience. The sycophants often do this to serve their own interest and may not be real friends of those being flattered. Thus, don’t be mistaken, nothing has changed. We will continue to see the repeat of the past in time to come.

“Elections for democracy, more elections for more democracy” – are they? If elections are democracy, we got that. If good, transparent and accountable governance is democracy, it is far away. The attitudes, styles of thinking, values and behavioral characters of the politicians have not changed at all as evidenced by the way they talk and act. So garbage in, garbage out! Or old wine in a new bottle!! Has the land lost its fertility to produce new grapes to make new wine? May be not in my lifetime.

Thirty seven years have passed since independence and the country is still struggling to make its fundamentals right in keeping with the true spirit of the liberation war. Simple lip service without genuine actions by those in power is of no use.

Abdul Quader writes from Canberra

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