Abraham Lincoln has said "Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people". We were taught this in 7th grade. Little I realized what that supposes to mean. Is it really possible? Well, may be in a dream land. A dream land it is! Years later, in a 2003 August afternoon, holding my wife's hand in front of the gigantic statue of Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, I recited those words to myself. I started to question myself. What does it really mean? Is it mean only to line up for vote and "choose" a less scary monster? Did Bangladesh have democracy? Did she ever have a government which is "of the people, by the people, for the people"?
Let me bring your attention to a latest court verdict. A local newspaper in Bangladesh reported this in May 8, 2008.
"A Dhaka court yesterday sentenced two men to death, nine to 43 years' rigorous imprisonment each and a former Dhaka City Corporation ward commissioner to 13 years' in jail in the sensational Lalbagh seven-murder case."
"According to the prosecution, a group of criminals led by the defeated ward commissioner Aziz attacked the victory procession of his rival, the winning candidate Humayun Kabir, at about 10:30am on January 31, 1994."
"They fired on the procession killing seven and leaving several others injured. The victims are Delwar, Gazi, Nazrul, Anwar, Hafiz, Aziz and Shah Alam."
"Humayun Kabir, elected ward commissioner of ward no 59, filed a murder case against Abdul Aziz and 23 others with the Lalbagh police the same day."
"In the past 14 years, the case was transferred to three courts for trial."
If you are familiar about Bangladesh, you probably know that this incident in 1994 was just business as usual. That is why for 14 years, no one really bothered with the case. The report did not disclose their political party affiliation. It is not that important. Same could have happened if the election result were reversed. Only the attacker and defender would have switched. In fact, they both are former "elected" commissioner.
So what do we see here? Bangladesh had election before. People of Bangladesh were given a "choice" to make. They can "elect" whoever of these two criminals they want. Political cartels from two family owned parties selected these two monsters and put their name in the ballot. Now all you have to do is come and "vote" for one. Is this the democracy that Abraham Lincoln was talking about?
Two hyenas came in front of you to kill your child. They are not sure it’s whose turn now. Ok, let’s be democratic, they say. You choose one between us. Here you go. Here is a free fare election for you. Can you vote? Of course you can. Is that any good?
Democracy is not just an election. Election is only a piece of a many piece structure called democracy. You need many more democratic institutions to exercise democracy. Otherwise, it would only be the criminals who own political party like their family property to inherit. It would only establish a government "of the criminals". The nomination would be handed out "by the criminals". And of course, if they get elected, and be sure that one of them would be, they would only work "for the criminals" themselves.
Will Bangladesh be able to come out of this vicious circle? The situation that arose in January 2007, opened up a big door for it. I am very confident that Bangladesh has some democratic visionary leaders. They may be hiding some where in the closet down sized by political cartels for all these years. It's about time to come out. I just hope that this will happen soon enough. The last thing we want to see is Bangladesh to go down hill on a slippery path of dictatorship. Then all it will be left with is yet another quest for the false democracy of the criminals, by the criminals, for the criminals.
[GM Solaiman writes from Silicon Valley, California. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org]