The current population of Bangladesh is estimated at 165 million, living on an area of land only twice the size of Tasmania. Poverty has been, and still is, endemic, but development has been substantial since independence. There is a rapidly expanding middle class but income inequality remains high. Corruption is endemic at all levels and is a serious barrier to equitable and sustainable development. Political instability, regularly resulting in violence, is an ongoing phenomenon in the country.
With partition of British India in 1947, what is now Bangladesh then became the eastern wing of Pakistan, i.e. East Pakistan. As a result of political dominance and repression from West Pakistan, however, this eastern wing fought a war of independence to become the Republic of Bangladesh in 1971. The struggle for independence was led by the Awami league (AL), under Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who became the country’s first prime minister, in a parliamentary democracy. The AL, under Sheikh Hasina, daughter of the first PM, is in power today. In the interim, however, there were two military coups, with periods of military rule (1975-77 and1982-90). The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) derived from the first coup and the BNP and AL have alternated in power at other times. At the previous national election in 2014, the BNP did not participate as they perceived that the then incumbent AL had rigged the system. And, the concept of ‘free and fair’ elections remains just an aspiration as in February of this year the BNP leader was jailed on corruption charges. The next election is due at the end of this year or early next year.
Actually, there are many (~100) small political parties in Bangladesh but they normally form an alliance with either the AL or BNP rather than stand for election by themselves. Standing independently would invite political violence by adherents of one or the other of the major parties who would consider them as a political threat. Presently there is a 14 party alliance under the AL, a left-of-centre secular party, opposed by an 18 party grouping led by the BNP, a more conservative party aligning with some Islamic religious parties.
Enter the Green Party, formed only in 2014 and has thus not yet contested any election. They have so far established a constitution and set of objectives, which are expressed as:
- Environment, Health, Safety /Ecological Wisdom
- Zero Corruption policy
- Merit Base Bangladesh
- Grassroots Democracy
- Social Justice and Equal Opportunity
- Non-Violence and Peace
- Community-based Economics and Economic Justice with green economy
- Gender Equity
- Youth & Women Empowerment
- Respect for Diversity
These objectives encompass the four pillars of the Australian Greens, and indeed they have drawn on the Australian Greens in the formulation of their own objectives. Note that they specifically mention ‘zero corruption’, ‘merit base’, ‘gender equity’, ‘youth and women empowerment’ and ‘respect for diversity’ as these are particular challenges in this country.
For more information on the Bangladesh Green Party go to their website at http://bangladeshgreen.org/ and Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Bangladesh-Green-Party-328490533959462/ (although entries here are mainly in Bangla).
While in Bangladesh in January, I met the leader, and founder, of the Green Party, Mansur Ahmed. I firstly briefed him on the situation of The Greens in Australia, explaining the three levels of governance under which we operate – local, state and federal. I indicated Greens’ representation in these levels of government, the degree of voter support and the overall political influence we have been able to have. Bangladesh has only two such levels, local and national, both of which are contested for by political parties. Mansur reiterated that the Green Party was still very much in an organizational stage and working out how to participate in the next national election. He emphasized that they would not be contesting any seats independently (i.e. outside of any wider alliance of political parties), due to possible intimidation from major parties that they would oppose (being a party of peace and non-violence makes them easy targets!) but are considering which other parties they should align with.
So, the Green Party is not likely to have an independent voice, and meaningful political influence, in the Bangladesh parliament any time soon. What prospects are there then for disseminating and implementing their worthy objectives? To me, it seems only through aligning with other, bigger, more influential parties and influencing them to adopt, and actively pursue, some of the Green Party principles. Thus implementation of consensus building becomes important, perhaps an area where the Australian Greens can assist given our experience in developing concepts, techniques and practice of consensus.
Actually, most adherents of the major parties of Bangladesh that I have interacted with would, on the surface, agree with the Green Party objectives as above. However, they have been somewhat remiss in creating the conditions to actually implement or achieve them. Thus there is an obvious role for the Green Party in explaining to major parties implementation strategies for achieving at least some of these objectives, perhaps by drawing on examples from other countries.
Non-government organizations (NGOs) have made an enormous contribution to the economic and social development of Bangladesh, compensating the limited financial and other capabilities of government agencies. An example is the development of micro-finance services by the Grameen Bank, and there are numerous other examples. Having worked on projects with some of these NGOs over the years I am aware that their objectives largely align with those of the Green Party. Further, with their success in the development process, many NGOs have been able to be influential in guiding government policy. Thus there is a strong precedence, and prospect, as to how the Green Party can influence the government towards adopting and seriously attempting to implement at least some of its objectives. Perhaps increased liaison with like-minded NGOs is one way forward for the Green Party.
To what extent can the Australian Greens assist this nascent Green Party? We are indeed well positioned to through our international work. The Australian Greens International Development Committee (IDC) has recently completed a year long project there to assist with trainings from the more experienced neighbouring Green parties and in the initial setting up of the Bangladeshi Green party. They have additionally also recently set up a Young Greens and Women's Group (pictured) for their party and two branch offices. The Global Issues Group (GIG) members could also encourage their membership to be informed and aware of this newly emerging Green party. The Bangladeshi Greens have recently become the newest member of the regional Asia-Pacific Greens Federation (APGF). There is an ongoing project team aimed at assisting BGP, comprised of IDC of AG, and APGF reps from neighbouring countries and Bangladeshi Greens.
A first priority would be to pass on our experience in building a party and grass roots democracy, which would seem to be a fundamental activity for the Green Party into the immediate future. It would be useful to bring one or more Green Party members to Australia for training/familiarization in consensus techniques on the above and for AG members to visit Bangladesh to provide training/familiarization to a larger group.
Another area of assistance would be to, simply, increase our interaction. I have alerted Mansur Ahmed to our online links and publications (including this esteemed journal!) and it would be useful to keep informed of Green Party happenings in Bangladesh. Language may be somewhat of a problem but there are enough people proficient in English on the Bangladesh side to compensate for those, if not all, of us who are illiterate in Bangla.
Header photo: Mansur Ahmed with a BGP Women’s Group
Text photo; Mansur Ahmed with the author
Acknowledgement: Thanks to Michelle Sheather, International Development Coordinator, Australian Greens, for informing and updating on AG involvement with BGP to date, through IGP, and to Viv Glance for coordination with GIG.