Even after 50 years of independence, Bangladesh is yet to reach a comfortable level in its democratic journey, which is really disappointing, said Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB).
"This deficit applies to everything — from [having] a political culture of electing public representatives through a transparent electoral system, to establishing a national institution of international standards to protect the legal and social rights of citizens, said the graft watchdog in a statement sent to media on Tuesday marking the International Democracy Day-2021.
Moreover, we are lagging behind in establishing the rule of law, it added.
For the sake of sustainable economic and social development of the country, the TIB called for ensuring the highest integrity in democratic practices at all political and institutional levels, leaving behind the culture of denying reality.
TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said, "Bangladesh's progress in the recently released Global Democracy Index, positioned at 76th, advancing four steps is a temporary relief, but it is not satisfactory at all. Because, with a score of 5.99, we are still in the "hybrid regime" category of the index, which cannot be called a full-fledged democracy."
"This score is not only due to the fact that democratic practices have not fully developed in the political structure of the country," he said, adding, "In fact, our position in the index is due to the structural and ideological weakness of concerned institutions, including the Election Commission (EC)."
Observing that the EC has failed to play a strong role in the implementation of the National Integrity Strategy, Iftekharuzzaman said, "The strength of a country's democratic system depends on the country's electoral system and parliamentary functions. But for the past several years, our EC has been content with just holding elections as part of its routine responsibilities. They are not concerned about whether the vote is participatory, fair, and neutral."
"A strong election commission and a radical reform of the electoral structure are urgently needed to achieve democratic excellence," he added.
"Observing that there is no alternative to democratic excellence to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the TIB executive director said, "We are committed to achieving the SDGs this decade. However, apart from some legal reforms, there is no visible effective action to achieve one of the aims of the SDG — ensuring peace, justice, and strong institutions.
"In this case also, the country's political and institutional integrity could not be confirmed. Equal legal opportunities for all have not been achieved. There is still a long way to go to build a participatory social and legal framework.
"The right to fearless, free, and independent expression is still being curtailed by various laws and policies that hinder democratic progress. Criticism of the media and the public, as well as the right to speak freely against state arbitrariness, are being curtailed by various preventive laws, including the Digital Security Act, which is playing a negative role in ensuring integrity in all cases.
By immediately removing these barriers, political and institutional integrity must be ensured in all areas to ensure the democratic rights of the people, which is an election promise of the ruling political party, Iftekharuzzaman added.