481.3 Institutionalizing democracy, strengthening state: Bangladesh experience

Friday, August 3, 2012: 11:09 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Habibul H. KHONDKER , Zayed University, UAE, United Arab Emirates
By using Bangladesh’s  experience with democracy and governance, this paper argues that the debate on whether democracy is a precondition for development or a strong developmental state is a pre-condition for democracy is somewhat unproductive. Rather than starting from such a stark opposition, this paper argues that it may be possible to pursue the two goals: creating a strong developmental state and deepening democracy at the same time. The argument is based on Claus Offe’s argument that democracy is parasitical on strong state. Conversely, a weak state is a bad host and a poor driver for democracy. Following this line of argument, and modifying it slightly, this paper argues that one of the reasons for the weakness of democracy in Bangladesh is rooted in the weakness of the state.  A strong state based on a citizen-focused governance can achieve meaningful developmental outcomes and aid in deepening democracy. And yet, the evidence from Asian Tiger economies reveals that governmental efficiency in achieving meaningful and inclusive development may sometime compensate for the absence of a vibrant democracy. So the key conceptual challenge is how to pursue the two goals at the same time?

Bangladesh started as a democracy, however, the post-independence circumstances defeated that goals of democracy, the transition from parliamentary to presidential form took place in less than 4 years of independence.  Following  military coups and a trail of authoritarian rulers between 1975 and 1990, Bangladesh was governed by regimes based on  elections without democracy and made a transition from elections without democracy to democracy without citizenship from 1990 to the present. The glaring defect of Bangladesh’s democracy is the weakness of rule of law. The neo-patrimonial state in Bangladesh results in the absence of rational bureaucracy and rule of law.