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Backlash of democracy

Mahfuzur Rahman

Democracy has its own wonderful feature of elasticity. You can pull it on as you like. You can define it in your own words suiting your personal interests. You can go to any length in your rhetoric as democracy allows freedom of expression. This is the ‘beauty of democracy’! But, democracy has its backlash, too. Who knows it better than British Prime Minister David Cameron! He is now treated as a tragic hero of history for gambling with referendum over his county’s European Union membership.

Before the last general election in the United Kingdom last year, David Cameron had promised to go for a referendum seeking the opinion of the British people whether the UK would remain in the 28-nation bloc or quit it. Before going for the gamble, Cameron had little idea that he was going to swallow a bitter pill. The British people came out in their large numbers to vote in favour of getting out of the EU bloc. The most interesting thing was many Britons took it as a fun while voting for getting out of the EU.

What was a fun for the millions had turn out to be a great tragedy for David Cameron which cost his premiership as he has already announced to step down by October next allowing a new leader to deal with the stormy situation he is going to leave behind. Following the Brexit last week from the EU, all eyes are now focused more on the stormy political situation in Europe and its economic fallout rather than analysing the downside of democracy.

The UK referendum has again exposed that democracy has its own limitations, too. Political scientists will surely analyse one day this referendum from the perspective of democratic feasibility. Many countries in Europe have taken democratic institutions to a great height that they are now hardly ready to admit its hidden weakness. Two days after the Brexit referendum, millions of Britons had regretted on their facebook and other social media accounts that they had made the greatest mistake of their lives by voting in favour of getting out of the EU. Amid the political turmoil in the UK, a demand came up for holding a fresh referendum over the issue only to be turned down by Cameron.

We are passing through a time when democratic dramas are seen in many parts of the world — both the developed and the developing ones. The United States of America that always beats the drum of democracy is now heading towards its next presidential election in November next amid unprecedented mudslinging. As Donald Trump has been in the race to the White House as a Republican presumptive candidate, the world has seen many funny events for his anti-Muslim rhetoric and huge flip-flops. Trump has hardly missed any opportunity that came by in his way to attack Muslims. Many American scholars have already commented that it would be a ‘contradiction of civilization’ if Donald Trump is elected as president of the United States.

Though Trump is unlikely to be elected US President, it is highly unbecoming for a political leader of a country like the USA to make so offensive and imprudent comments about a particular community and women. According to a recent survey, 64 percent Americans think Donald Trump is not qualified to be their President. And even many key leaders of his party are hesitant whether to back him at the convention due in July next.

Democratic dramas and melodramas are also there elsewhere in the world. The Army in Thailand, a country on Southeast Asia’s Indochina peninsula, seized power in May 2014 following prolonged street violence against its elected government. And there has been foot-dragging over a schedule for fresh polls there. Military leader-turned Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha now argues that his country can go for polls only when they can bridge Thailand’s ‘long-drawn-out political divide’.

After prolonged confrontation, Egypt, a country linking northeast Africa with the Middle East, looks to be moving, but perhaps in the wrong directions as its military buried democracy alive. Egypt is no longer a democratic country. Although the 2011 Arab Spring uprising had ushered in a wider horizon for it to move forward to democracy, Egypt ended up in only removing its long-standing leader Hosni Mubarak. Now the country is governed by its military that captured power dislodging its elected president in July 2013.

In Pakistan, democracy has remained hostage to its powerful Army. Pakistan’s incumbent Prime Minister’s Nawaz Sharif who returned to power after a long wait of 14 years after so many ups and downs in his political career remains to be an Army puppet. Nawaz Sharif can hardly take any major decision when it comes to bolstering Pakistan’s ties with its nuclear rival and big neighbour India and also about dealing with Taliban elements.

Pakistan goes to elections after regular intervals, but the world knows this country is effectively run by its army. There was also a time when its judiciary sided with the Army.

As Pakistan witnessed a democratic transition on June 5, 2013 when Nawaz Sharif took oath for the third time as Pakistan’s Prime Minister after securing over two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, many had believed that the days of military supremacy were over. But was not to be! As Nawaz Sharif, along with his family, left for the Presidency to take oath on that day, he struck reality on the streets of Islamabad, according to a report carried by The Dawn.

The report says the convoy of the prime minister was standing at close distance from the cars of his family members. As soon as they reached the outer barrier of Punjab House adjacent to Margallah Road, an alter commando blew the whistle with full force ordering the driver to stop the vehicle. Consequently, the prime minister’s convoy had to stop as well, the report added. The pause remained for two to three minutes. The commando was there to make sure nothing should obstruct the route of the Army chief’s convoy, only allowing vehicles from Punjab House to pass after the entire convoy of the army chief drove away. Then The Dawn, a national English daily of Pakistan, raised a question in its report: Who is the real power wielder in Pakistan? The prime minister or the Army chief?

As an emerging democratic country, Bangladesh also has got many political leaders who stage various democratic dramas every day. Take HM Ershad for example. The man who had ruled the country for over nine years with an iron fist also delivers lectures on democracy and good governance. This former military ruler, while speaking in parliament on June 28 urged the government to engage in dialogue with all political parties other than those who believe in politics of arson, meaning the BNP.

Ershad, also a special envoy to the Prime Minister, bemoaned that there was no good governance in the country. Known for his widespread corruption during his nearly a decade of misrule, Ershad hardly feels any shame while talking about democracy and good governance which he could not offer during his rule. His wife Raushon Ershad, who’s now the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament by default, also talks about democracy and public sufferings whenever she appears in parliament, which she rarely does. Bangladesh has got many political leaders by default and they have misinterpreted democracy and manipulated democratic institutions to gain their personal interests.

Democracy is a good governing system if you allow it to grow and mature. It turns ugly when you manipulate it, no matter in whose name you do it. Holding elections after a regular interval in the name of democracy is pointless if you do not allow democratic institutions to function democratically. Leadership is more important than holding election in a democracy because it is a vulnerable and expensive system. We should not manipulate it.

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