Denial syndrome in Bangladesh politics

Denial syndrome in Bangladesh politics

By: Prof. Dr. Mohammad Tariqur Rahman

Clinically, syndrome refers to a combination of symptoms in a sickness. Ahead of a national assembly election in Bangladesh scheduled for 7 January 2024, the severity of denial syndrome in Bangladesh politics has reached a peak. Here I highlight the major symptoms of the pervasive “denial syndrome” of Bangladesh politics that is driving the nation towards a democratic ICU.

Symptom 1. A ridiculously divisive politics: According to the current ruling party and its allies, anyone outside their territory are enemy of the nation or a traitor. Using the spirit of freedom and independence, they mark themselves as the only rightful “owner” of the country.

They seem to deny the rights and respect of hundreds of freedom fighters and their family members who are part of the opposition. Ironically, they seem to remain mute or deny the presence of well-known anti-independent activists who have been holding important positions in the ruling party.

Symptom 2. Ignoring the voice of the citizens: It is clear, that the strongest candidates who are running after any constituency belong to the ruling political party or their allies. While thousands of the political opposition are either behind bars or escaping arrest. Hence, whoever wins in the “dummy” election race will belong to the same political party or their allies.

Besides, boycotting the election by the major political opponent and a few others speaks for a vast majority of the people who are rejecting the election. Surely, such an election would not represent the voice of the citizens. Holding the election without any actual competitor simply denies the essence of a democratic election.

Symptom 3. Neglecting the well-being of the citizens: Should the scheduled election be considered as “non-participatory”, the nation is under the threat of economic and trade sanctions by the USA and their allies. If the threat becomes a reality, millions of people will start to starve at the very least. While a civil war could be the highest possible consequence of holding the election.

Instead of paying heed to resolve the concern, denial has been used to musk the imminent plight and predicament of the citizens.

Symptom 4. The improbability of a fair election: The general elections in 2014 and 2018 under the current ruling party were marred with controversy of vote rigging or filling the ballot at night without voters. Again, a video of vote rigging during a recent by-election became viral.

Yet there is a “cautious” denial of unfair means in the scheduled election by the election commission and the ruling party.

All those symptoms are denied by raising the constitutional obligation to hold the election. It looks like the will of the people as Clause 7(2) says – the constitution is the supreme law of the republic and is the solemn expression of the people – is being denied too.

Taken together, this denial syndrome could be the root cause of the scuffle in the power transition. It’s a syndrome of wanting “selves” in the ruling position forever – an astounding denial of the basic democratic principle.

Dismally, the nation suffered repeated brutal political chaos all along. At least three such major power transitions are worth mentioning: The killing of the then President Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members in 1975, the fall of the army dictator General Hussain Muhammad Ershad in 1990-1991, and the transition of government during 2006-2008.

Besides, irrespective of their affiliation, whoever is in the ruling position, politicians and their supporters have been in denial of the most common and severe symptom of all, i.e., symptom 5 – Corruption and Abuse. An unprecedented diffusion of corruption, money laundering, human rights violations, abuse of law enforcement, shortage of foreign reserves, and inflation are real in Bangladesh. Except that those have exceeded a level beyond our imagination during the current regime, those were not unseen earlier.

It is hard to believe that politicians don’t know or cannot diagnose the symptoms. They are also not deaf and dumb to recognize what is happening in their surroundings.

Yet, they seem to deny their denial syndrome by resorting to their skill of hiding the truth to concoct “alternate truths” – a term that became popular after Donald Trump. Sadly, echoing their political leaders, supporters too suffer from the same denial syndrome of hiding the truth.

For such a group of leaders and their supporters, what else could be more befitting than saying, “We know that they are lying, they know that they are lying, and they know that we know that they are lying.”

Hiding the truth inevitably needs to lie a thousand more times. Not a surprise then, that politics in Bangladesh become an art of hiding the truth of those who are carriers of denial syndrome.

No matter what happens before or after 7 January 2024, both the politicians and their supporters, irrespective of their political affiliation, ought to know that political diplomacy does not have to always depend on hiding the truth.

In their denial syndrome, ordinary citizens remain the common loser – no matter which party wins. Nevertheless, ahead of the general assembly election, they are counting the days to know what is next. Will our politicians be able to treat their denial syndrome by being truthful and honest?

Remember, a healthy democracy in the country is also important for the neighbours in the region and beyond to deepen their friendly gestures.

The author is the Associate Dean (Continuing Education), Faculty of Dentistry, and Associate Member, UM LEAD, Universiti Malaya. He may be reached at [email protected]


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