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Fakrul Alam

BANGLADESH IN THE MIRROR: AN OUTSIDER PERSPECTIVE ON A STRUGGLING DEMOCRACY
By A.T. Rafiqur Rahman
The University Press, Dhaka, 2006, pp. 383, TK 550.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 3 March 2007

Bangladesh has just gone through one of the most traumatic phases of its history. For most of 2006 and the first ten days of 2007, normal life in the country was completely disrupted as the ruling coalition, consisting of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and the Jamaat-i-Islam, was confronted a coalition of opposition parties led by the Awami League, mainly over the way in which the next elections were to be held. Bangladesh, it must be remembered, had switched to a form of democracy in 1996 where the ruling party would hand over power to a ‘caretaker government’ for a period not exceeding three months so that free and fair elections could be ensured. The system had worked well that year and had eventually brought the Awami League into power at the expense of the BNP. In 2001, too, there was a reasonably smooth transition because of the caretaker system. This time it was the Awami League which had to hand over power to the BNP. Unfortunately for the proponents of the caretaker form of government, the leaders of BNP then decided that there was no point in relying on a neutral administration during electioneering any more if they wanted to remain in power since the order of politics in Bangladesh seems to be that the party in power always loses. Consequently, the BNP leaders engineered a number of moves throughout its term to ensure that the administration, the judiciary, the forces responsible for maintaining law and order during elections, and the election commission itself would tilt their way by the time the next election came around. The icing on the election cake they had concocted for themselves, they must have thought, was the fact that the President had the right to choose the head of the caretaker government. After all, President Iajuddin Ahmed was their man, and wouldn’t the ‘chief adviser’ and the ‘advisers’ he chose to run the caretaker government virtually guarantee BNP’s success in the elections?   The Awami League and its coalition partners, however, had been schooled too long in what A. T. Rafiqur Rahman calls in his book Bangladesh in the Mirror: An Outsider Perspective on a Struggling Democracy, ‘andolon politics’, that is to say, the ‘politics of confrontation’ to let the BNP government have its way. Such politics had emerged out of years and years of experience which had taught them that ‘the politics of tolerance and ...


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