Political RallyBangladesh’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 current governing party is the Awami League (AL), which is center/center-left. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies form the right-of-center to conservative grouping in Bangladesh.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 Islamist parties, including Jamaat e Islami and Islami Oikyo Jote, who calls for an increased role for Islam in public life. The fifth major party 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 independently.


Scene from a hartal

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.