SN1101E - Bangladesh - Bangladesh: An Illiberal Democracy...

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Bangladesh: An Illiberal Democracy SN1101E Briefly The Bangladeshi political system may be divided into five phases: 1971 Parliamentary democracy 1975 Civilian autocracy 1975 Military autocracy 1990 Parliamentary democracy 2006 Military-backed interim government Perhaps Bangladesh's history, at best, might be described as confusing (and completely annoying to any student of South Asian politics). Attempting to study it (without frequent thoughts of suicide) requires an understanding of why the military has dominated, the results of its dominance, and why the military is – ironically – the best candidate for resolving Bangladesh's problems. Pourquoi? Essentially: (Pakistan → Rise of military strongmen) + (Weak leadership + Economic failure → Weak parliamentary democracy) Military dominance has pervaded Bangladeshi politics since its independence. While its role – or perhaps the visibility of its role – has varied, the fact that the military does not fall under civil rule is somewhat precarious for the state. It should be noted that military dominance did not figure in the ancient history of the Bengal delta. In fact, while the British had categorised the Punjabis as a martial race, the Bengalis were designated as non-martial. The Punjab region became prime recruiting areas for the Indian army. .. [and] became the garrison province of the Raj (Van Schendel; 2009). However military men did control the state from 1958, after the formation of East and West Pakistan Following the partition of 1947, tensions immediately arose. While East and West Pakistan shared a common religion, Islam, this provided for little in the way of unity, Pakistan being divided by 1500 kilometres of Indian territory. Perhaps even more crucial to their troubled relationship, as well as to later developments in Bangladeshi politics, were the cultural divides between East and West Pakistan. Armed with their military superiority, the Punjabis declared Urdu as the national language, outraging the Bengalis, who felt that this was an unfair imposition on their culture. This, coupled with various other economic inequalities – East Pakistan received a far smaller share of the national revenue, despite their high export rates, for instance – triggered a strong sense of Bengali nationalism. This did not
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deter the Bengalis from joining the Pakistani army, although they comprised only about 6% of the military. General Zia and Ershad (his successor) were among the young men who joined the military. These military men were later to figure strongly in the birth of Bangladesh. In the 1970 elections, East Pakistan's Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujib, won the Pakistani elections. The West Pakistan leaders refused to acknowledge their overwhelming victory, however. The straw that broke the proverbial camel's back, perhaps, was the cyclone that struck East Pakistan later that year. Faced with paltry and tardy relief efforts from the central government, rioting and strikes broke out. As part of a federation, East Pakistan was technically not supposed to secede, much less though military means.
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SN1101E - Bangladesh - Bangladesh: An Illiberal Democracy...

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