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Democracy Index 2017:  Why did Bangladesh's score fall to its lowest?

  • Published at 10:22 pm February 2nd, 2018
  • Last updated at 01:23 am February 3rd, 2018
Democracy Index 2017:  Why did Bangladesh's score fall to its lowest?
Bangladesh’s score in the latest Democracy Index fell to its lowest in a decade, reveals the Economist Intelligence Unit in its annual snapshot of the state of democracy worldwide. Bangladesh ranks 92nd on the Democracy Index 2017 out of 165 countries and two territories, with an overall score of 5.43 out of 10 points, the worst ever performance since the index was introduced in 2006. A year ago, it ranked 84th with a score of 5.73 on the 2016 index. Although Bangladesh’s points in all other categories remain essentially unchanged, the score in civil liberties dropped from 6.76 in 2006 to 5.29 in 2017, causing concerns among rights activists. The score in civil liberties was calculated from a set of indicators, including freedoms of press and expression, assembly and association, right to protest, independence of the judiciary, state repression, right to Internet access, religious freedom, and right to justice and equality before the law. Talking about the striking drop, human rights activist Nur Khan Liton told the Dhaka Tribune that Bangladesh’s score in civil liberties dropped as the people’s freedom of expression and right to live are increasingly shrinking. “Though enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings…are on the rise, we do not see the government take any visible step to address the concerns.” There is no alternative to ensuing accountability and transparency to uphold the people’s political and civil rights, he added. Liton, also a former director of human rights organization Ain o Salish Kendra, urged the government to accept the EIU’s findings and devise an action plan to address them accordingly. The controversial Section 57 of the Information and Communication Technology Act and the recently-approved draft Digital Security Act may further downgrade Bangladesh’s human rights and democratic standards, he expressed fears. Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan), a civil society platform for good governance, underscored the need for a strong civil society to promote civil liberties, saying: “If civil society organizations cannot effectively play their role, ensuring democracy will be a difficult task for Bangladesh.” The country scored 7.42 in electoral process and pluralism, 5.07 in the functioning of government, 5 in political participation, and 4.38 in political culture. The overall score of the country was 6.11 in 2006. It came down to 5.52 in 2008, when the Awami League-led 14-party alliance came to power following the tenure of a military-backed caretaker government. The score improved slightly to 5.87 in 2010, and since then, it has been showing a declining trend.

Bangladesh seen as a 'hybrid regime'

Given the overall score, the 2017 index classified Bangladesh as a hybrid regime, a category of the countries that score between four and six on the index. Countries where substantial irregularities are recorded during elections, governments repress opposition parties and their candidates, and weaknesses prevails in political culture, the functioning of administration and political participation, are included in this category. Agreeing on the findings, rights activists said political instability has been prevailing in Bangladesh since the January 5, 2014 election held amid a boycott by the main opposition BNP and its allies, low turnout and widespread violence. Since then, the country has seen a weak democratic order as political participation and space for inclusive politics has significantly shrunk, they added.

‘The 2017 index reflects reality’

Speaking to the Dhaka Tribune, Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, said the findings of the report were not surprising. “Rather, they reflect the reality and truth.” “A volatile situation has been prevailing in the country's political arena since 2014, when the space for political participation and inclusive politics started to shrink,” he added. The country has been witnessing “monopolized” politics, with internal feuds among leaders and activists of the ruling Awami League looming large and space for other political parties increasingly shrinking, Iftekharuzzaman also said. The party in power and the government should try to explore the reasons behind Bangladesh’s low ranking on the list and take necessary measures to address the issues in line with the findings, he suggested.

Press freedom

Bangladesh ranked 49th with a score of 7 on a scale of 10 in press freedom as its media is described as “partly free.” The report shows that Asia and Australia are a “very dangerous” place for journalists as they regularly face physical and death threats in such countries as Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines. Badiul Alam accused the government of deviating from democratic standards and trying to establish its own brand of democratic concept that he describes as “democracy vs development.” “The ruling party is trying to establish a concept that if you want development, you have to compromise on democratic practices. It is true that there has been some development work. But without democracy, such development will not sustain if we fail to adhere to ‘positive’ democratic practices.” Nazmul Ahsan Kalimullah, chairman of National Election Observation Council, said the findings were not a reflection of a particular day. “Rather, the report reflects a prolonged crisis prevailing in the country.” Holding both the ruling party and the opposition responsible for Bangladesh’s low ranking on the list, he said:  “…political parties should be respectful to one another for the sake of democracy and pluralism so we can emerge as a liberal democratic nation.”