Bangladesh: When democracy becomes a 'hybrid regime'

According to the EIU, for a decade Bangladesh has been in the middle of an autocratic and flawed democratic system, known as the hybrid regime, writes Mahmudul Hasan for South Asia Monitor

Mahmudul Hasan Jan 16, 2021
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Although many things have changed during the COVID-19 period, the fact that politics has not changed at all can be made out from the speeches and statements of the Bangladeshi leaders. Neither the government nor the opposition seems to be thinking of moving forward!

December 30, 2020, was the two-year anniversary of Bangladesh's eleventh parliamentary election, which is mired in controversy. In memory of the day, both the government and the opposition parties just attacked each other, refusing to learn anything from past mistakes.

50 years of Bangladesh independence

Bangladesh’s independence is 50 years old. During this time, the country's economy has become much better, and people’s lives have improved. Once a food-deficient country, it has now become self-sufficient. Online business has opened up new avenues during the COVID-19 period. In spite of all these advances, the thing that is constantly disturbing is the fragile state of democracy.

Although we have made a lot of progress in the socio-economic areas, democratic institutions have become weaker and weaker. Today, those in opposition are celebrating December 30th as 'democracy killing day' to denounce the general election, which they and the opposition parties allege witnessed widespread rigging, resulting in the ousting of BNP’s (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) polling agents from polling centres and led to widespread violence. But they did not try to defend democracy when they were in power. Again, those in power who are celebrating the victory of democracy did not tolerate such a victory when they were in the opposition.

The Awami League (AL) claims that the country has maintained democratic continuity and development has gained momentum in the country since they have come to power.  Recently, the general secretary of the AL Obaidul Quader said at a party event: "No one will be able to break the record of BNP’s vote robbery."

Our political parties and governments are keen to break each other's records, but not for the betterment of the country and its people. Today, we see more extrajudicial killings, lack of civil rights, and freedom of the press. At the same event, another member of AL said, "Those who have killed democracy in the past it does not seem good to hear about democracy from them."

2018 elections

The issue of elections is not just about AL or BNP. It is the people's right to vote and that is the main issue. Can the leaders of the AL say with conviction whether the results announced by the Election Commission on the December 30, 2018 and the image of the polling centers were the same? If not, they have to take responsibility. For example, the BNP should take responsibility for the election of 1979 and 1996 (February 15) and the Jatiya Party should take responsibility for the elections of 1986 and 1988.

The BNP, in order to observe December 30 as ‘Democracy Killing Day’, announced a big rally in capital Dhaka. Although they held protests despite police restrictions, it was clear that the BNP stands isolated and doesn’t have much public support. 

Bangladesh - a hybrid regime

While the government and the opposition are fighting over December 30, the position of democracy in Bangladesh has slipped in the global indexes The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) prepares a report every year on the criteria of the electoral system and multiparty position, civil rights, government activism, political participation, etc. of different countries. This year's report is yet to be published. According to the index released in January last year for 2019, Bangladesh continues to be placed in the category of hybrid democracies. According to the EIU methodology hybrid regimes are marked by substantial electoral irregularities and government pressure on opposition parties.

According to the EIU, for a decade Bangladesh has been in the middle of an autocratic and flawed democratic system, known as the hybrid regime. However, Bangladesh's score in the Global Democracy Index in 2018 increased by 0.14 point compared to the previous year. As a result, in 2017, where the country was ranked 92nd, the following year it was 88th position.

Based on the scores obtained, the countries are divided into four categories: dictatorship, a hybrid regime, flawed democracy, and full democracy. If you want to go to the state of full democracy, you have to score 9 to 10 in the democratic index. Countries with scores of 6 to 8 have been called flawed democracies. However, the scores of the countries listed in the hybrid regime are between 5 and 6 and the scores of the autonomous countries are between zero and 4. Out of 167 countries, only 20 countries are on the list of democracies, 55 countries are on the list of flawed democracies, 39 countries are on the list of hybrid regimes and 53 countries are on the list of autocratic countries. In 2016, Bangladesh got a score of 5.57 and is on the list of EIU's hybrid regime.

According to the EIU report, flawed democracies exist in India and Sri Lanka among South Asian countries. On the other hand, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, and Pakistan have hybrid regimes and Afghanistan has an autocratic system of government. EIU has been publishing such research reports since 2006. The BNP was in power in 2006, while AL in 2021. There is not much change in the index.

In Bangladesh, while the opposition parties have been trying to demonstrate their power on the street, the ruling parties suppress the opposition voice by different means. It is really a sad state that, even after 50 years of independence, Bangladesh cannot hold free and fair elections and is trapped in a hybrid regime.

(The writer, an LLM graduate from the George Washington University Law School in Washington D.C., is a law practitioner based in New York. The views are personal. He can be contacted at Mahmudul.law@gmail.com)