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Bangladesh: Banning the religion card from elections

Tuesday 2 July 2013, by siawi3

Swadesh Roy

Source : Dhaka Tribune, June 30, 2013

Countries and organisations have seen, through the previous four elections, how religion card trumps sustainable development and women’s empowerment

For the longest time, Bangladesh has had strong ties with democratic development partner countries, along with some global organisations that want nothing more than sustainable development and women’s empowerment in our country.

These countries and organisations have been working with Bangladesh for so long that along with the Bangladeshi people, they too have started to notice how Islamic fundamentalists abuse religion in order to establish a political foothold.

The countries and organisations have seen, through the past four elections, how the religion card trumps sustainable development and women’s empowerment.

The fundamentalist forces that keep playing the religion card are the Jamaat-e-Islami and the newly formed, self-proclaimed “political force” – Hefazat-e-Islam. About two and a half months ago, Hefazat-e-Islam pushed forward their 13-point demand.

If met, these demands (some of which go against the constitution of the country) will ensure that no sustainable development takes place and that no women are empowered. Jamaat-e-Islami, on the other hand is well known amongst Bangladesh’s democratic partners due to the shenanigans they started more than six months ago.

The two Islamic fundamentalist groups have remained afloat mainly due to the support of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) – the main opposition in the country’s current government.

They started off riding on BNP’s bandwagon but over time have come into the driving seat, making it clear that BNP’s political strategy for national politics is using the “religion card” in any and every way they can.

All they want is to win the elections, and hold the seat of power, making it so that no development takes place, and change present-day democratic politics into something that works in their favour.

However, what the BNP does not realise is that if they continue backing the fundamentalists, they themselves will eventually have to surrender to them.

Bangladesh has a large number of youths aged between 18 and 25, and it is possible to utilise this demographic dividend as an efficient workforce in the global economy.

As most of us know, there is a big market for products in the West for products manufactured in Asia; because of this labour costs in the continent are constantly on the rise. Since Bangladesh is one of the largest manufacturers of garments, its economy is constantly growing.

The main factor behind this economic growth is the female workforce that is employed in the industry. Therefore, if Bangladesh wishes to continue its economic growth, it must espouse a liberal democratic process that is in favour of gender equality and modern education.

We know that our development partners have been investing a lot of capital to develop both our economy and the society. Therefore, they are always advocating for a democratic and modern society. For this reason alone, they have helped us invest a lot of resources to improve our voting system, in spite of that, democracy in the nation is still infantile.

Now that the country has seen how the “religion card” is a bane to the electoral system, one that will ultimately turn into a cancer, Bangladesh has little choice but to remove it from the body of the electoral system, or else it will act to ruin democracy.

If Bangladesh loses that system due to Islamic fundamentalist groups coming to power through the election, it will be disastrous for the country. Bangladesh will stop continuously developing; its society will be in a state of chaos. The chaos will come about as a result of disconnect in the mindset of Bengali society, which isn’t fundamentalist at all, and these potential political leaders.

Judging from the way Bangladesh’s economy and society is developing, it is obvious that it can reach its goal of becoming a middle income country soon.

Politicians, business leaders, and development partners of the country have to think seriously about the use of the “religion card.” It’s true that Bangladesh has been very fortunate that so far the card has only been used in local elections that do not give the winner policy-making power that affects the country.

Therefore, now is probably the best time to try and keep religion and the state separate. Many countries have strong laws against using religion in elections. Bangladesh too, should introduce a similar law with the help of development partners.