The Trouble with Democracy


With varying degrees of justification election boycotts are in vogue in Asia.

“THOSE living in dictatorships often harbour the delusion that the point of democracy is that you get the government you want. Those living in democracies soon realise that is not the system’s most salient feature: rather, it is that a large number of voters get the government they do not want and are expected to put up with it until the next election. In many young democracies, politicians find this hard to accept. So governments rig elections to make sure they win; and opposition parties reject elections they think they will lose.
For combinations of these two reasons, Asia is experiencing a wave of election boycotts. The poll held on January 5th in Bangladesh was a foregone conclusion after the opposition refused to take part…
The election in Bangladesh was a farce. Because of the boycott, the incumbent Awami League had won a parliamentary majority even before polling stations opened. But the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) did have a strong case that the election would have been farcical even if it had taken part. So deep and bitter is the antagonism between the League and the BNP and their leaders, Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister, and Khaleda Zia of the BNP, that neither has ever trusted the other to run a proper election. Since 1991 governments have had to stand down well before elections, which were held under supposedly neutral caretaker administrations. But after winning a landslide in December 2008, the League used its big parliamentary majority to amend the constitution to do away with this requirement.
Even so, the BNP would probably have contested the election had it maintained the big lead it held up to a few months ago in the opinion polls. But it did not, less because of the memory of how corrupt, high-handed and generally dreadful an administration it ran in 2001-06 than because of the thuggery of some of its supporters. Both sides are to blame for the political violence that has seen some 150 people killed during the campaign and on polling day itself. No incumbent ruling party has ever won a second term in Bangladesh; each election is a victory of hope over experience. After the BNP’s previous term ended, the army stepped in to back a two-year “technocratic” interim administration and to try to build a political system that did not depend on the two “Begums”. It failed. So democracy in Bangladesh remains the fief of two parties that have consistently done all they can to undermine it.”

Source: The Economist