Explaining the 2018 Bangladeshi Election
by Ali Riaz (2019); Palgrave Macmillan; p. 109
Hardcover $ 25.90
by Md. Akmal Hossain 5 January 2021
Bangladesh, since its independence, has come across different types of government systems. From a parliamentary to a presidential system, and unfortunately, from illiberal democracy to authoritarianism. In the early 1990s, General Ershad, a military dictator who has ruled the country for a decade, was toppled from power through a mass movement. From 1990 to 2007, Bangladeshis enjoyed more political and civil rights than under any other regimes in the country’s history. But since then, it has moved towards becoming a hybrid regime. This is the central argument of the newly published book titled Voting in a Hybrid Regime: Explaining the 2018 Bangladeshi Election by Ali Riaz.
Riaz, one of the most influential political scientists in Bangladesh, has been writing ceaselessly on various issues, including Bangladesh and South Asia politics. His book Bangladesh: A Political History Since Independence (2016) has been praised by readers from various academic corners. His recent work on Bangladeshi election ‘Voting in a Hybrid Regime: Explaining the 2018 Bangladeshi Election’. Incisively scrutinized the election system under a hybrid regime in Bangladesh.
The book consists of eleven chapters, including an introduction, and has two appendices. Chapter Two, which follows the introduction, analyses the background, the emergence of the concept, and the nature of a hybrid regime. A hybrid regime, the writer, informs, is a distinctive political system that neither falls in liberal democracy nor a subtype of autocracy. Besides, hybrid regimes may have some democratic institutions and features, but they are mainly authoritarian in their nature.
In the third chapter, the writer gave attention to the transformation of Bangladesh from electoral democracy to a hybrid regime. The pivotal moment of the transformation, according to the writer, was a general national election held on in 2014 under the ruling party Bangladesh Awami League (BAL). After the 2014 election, political institutions in Bangladesh have severely deteriorated under the incumbent.
Then the writer examines the process of the collapse of the election system. He examines the process of the collapse using multiple dimensions. The process of creating a climate of fear includes, as the writer mentioned, constructing a sense of fear, pressure on media by ruling elites, and imposing self-censorship. Other ways include filing political cases and arresting opposition’s leaders indiscriminately, enforced disappearance and extra-judicial killing by law enforcers, and finally, Digital Security Act-57 and the newly legislated Digital Security Act 2018, which restricts dissidents’ voices. These have been used to create an environment of fear before the 2018 election.
Chapters six and seven illustrate the mechanism of manipulation and voting day’s environment. Authoritarian and non-democratic regimes practice various strategies to manipulate elections. A hybrid regime or an authoritarian government devote to using state institutions and apparatus to ensure electoral victory and return to power. The meticulous details of these in the Bangladeshi 2018 elections are documented.
The incumbent, the writer mentioned, employed a list of strategies before the 2018 election. The list comprises partiality of the election commission (EC) to government, arresting and humiliating opposition leaders by law enforcer agencies, civil administration and the ruling party itself played significant roles. They acted together and at times substituted each other.
Double standards of state institutions in favour of the Awami League and against the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was evident, the author shows. BNP made an alliance with Jatiya Okyfront (National Unity Front) led by Dr. Kamal Hossain, a framer of Bangladesh’s first constitution. Ballot boxes were stuffed, the writer remarked, the previous night.
Illiberal democracies snatch the electoral results through blatant rigging; the 2018 election in Bangladesh as an example, the book argues. The election day events discussed in the book include were arresting opposition polling agents from the election camps, restraining pro-BNP supporters from casting their ballots, beating polling agents, from naming a few.
In chapter eight, the author dissects the election results, which give the Awami League more than a landslide victory. Awami League won 294 out of 300 seats, 96 percent in total. It also generated implausible results at the constituency level across the country. For example, in 51 out of 300 seats, ruling party candidates obtained more than 80 percent ballots. Marginalizing opposition parties through election makes is a marker of a hybrid regime. Overserves from home and abroad were skeptical about the 2018 election, and they alleged the election was farcical.
The most striking part of Ali Riaz’s contribution, I think, is that the question he has raised about a hybrid regime’s election system. Does Election Matter in a Hybrid Regime? Yes, hybrid regimes need elections to show their legitimacy and ensure their victory be that as it may. Subsequently, elections under hybrid regimes are always questionable, and it is difficult to expect a free and fair election, a basic postulate of liberal democracy.
In the end, Ali Riaz’s book makes a landmark contribution to the growing literature on the hybrid regime and the election they arrange. Although it is a case study, it is beneficial to understand the current hybrid regimes trend. This book, I think, is an important guide for political analysts and researchers who are very much interested in electoral politics. Besides, it informs readers of the ultimate nature of hybrid regimes and the methods of election engineering frequently occurred in illiberal democracies. Finally, I strongly believe that this book will have obtained the expected readership like other books by the author.
Akmal Hossain is a Post Graduate Student of Political Science and an Independent Researcher at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. He can be contacted via Email: Akmal10th.email@example.com.