Bangladesh's political scene has been tumultuous since independence.
Periods of democratic rule have been interrupted by coups, martial law,
and states of emergency.
There is a proverb in Bangla which loosely translates into:
If you have two Bengali's you will have three political parties. This
is kind of evidenced in the existence of over 100 political parties. Most
of these are small, fringe parties formed mostly by a small coterie of
like minded intellectuals or politicians who usually have broken away
from larger groupings.
In the midst of this confusing scene,
there are 5 major political forces in the country. The Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies form the right-of-center
to conservative grouping in Bangladesh. The party is currently in
power in Bangladesh. The current opposition is led by the Awami
League (AL), which initially saw its birth as a socialistic organization
but has now transformed into a center/center-left political stream.
The extreme right or left, while not supported by a large fraction
of the populace, are typified by having very dedicated followers.
To the left are the pro-Soviet Bangladesh Communist Party, factions
of the Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal, and other socialist groups advocating
revolutionary change. To the right is a group of parties, including
Jamaat e Islami and Islami Oikyo Jote, who calls for an increased
role for Islam in public life. The fifth major pary is the party
founded by ex-military ruler General Ershad, the Jatiyo Party (JP)
is ideologically not too different from the AL or the BNP but operates
There is a singular lack of tolerance in the political system where
the major opposition parties are often at violent loggerheads. While
Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy with reasonably free and
fair elections, opposition to government policies is often displayed
through violent demonstrations and enforced strikes (hartals).
This is irrespective of which party is in power. In recent years
the major opposition parties have boycotted parliamentary sessions.
Trade-unions and student wings mirror the political inclinations of the
parent parties. Activities are more confrontational than positive. While
real students often led the major political movements in Bangladesh including
the Language Movement and the drive towards independence, student politics
today is more dictated by non-students used as political fodder by there
elder paymasters - including extortion, land-grabbing, attacking the media
and violently opposing dissenting views
The party in power usually takes advantage of state resources
to suppress opposition activities. Opposition to ruling government policies
are often portrayed as anti-state treasonable activities and the state
police machinery is used to make politically motivated arrests and repression
of opposition members.
Local representative government is not well developed in
many rural areas, but holds great potential. The local government, or
Union Parishads, hold elections for their chair and membership. Each Union
Parishad covers between 15 to 20 villages, encompassing around 25,000
people. In many cases, the Union Parishads have been unable to challenge
the domination of central government, and are not democratically accountable.