The election process has descended into something not very serious. People are not particularly interested about the EC members who are going to be selected by the Search committee to preside over the next big elections in 2023-24. Public interest is at an all-time low about elections in general and national elections in particular. So the interest in the EC committee is as less as it was in the search for the Search committee. Of course, political abuse is on as expected but not stake holding. The entire issue would have been farcical had one not recognized they are indicators describing the nature of the state called Bangladesh.

The slow decline of electoral health

Elections never really found a fertile soil in Bangladesh which points to historical issues about the nature of the state. The best elections was probably held in 1970 and after that, none were fully satisfactory going by public response. However, very little analysis has been done to see why it never found a foothold in Bangladesh's political soil. Given the conservative nature of our analysts, it may never be found either.

The fact that we have had such long spells of martial law is not explained either why we need a caretaker electoral government. Nor does any analysis go beyond conspiracy theories when discussing why the military took over in 2007 and left in 2008.

Politics in Bangladesh is the replica of public religious activities and so considered sacred. As a result, after 50 years, we are at best at the same institutional and formal stage as were after 1971. Why it has happened may not be found but Bangladesh is hardly stagnant as it has surged forward in economic and social development leaving politics behind.

Progress: informal and formal spaces

However, this progress over time may not have as much to do with the formal spaces as it has with the informal ones where state institutions are far less present. A big factor in economic development has been the rise of informal entrepreneurship including in the rmg sector which has travelled on its own with the movers themselves creating business opportunities responding to global demand. In that way, no matter what the level, growth and quality of the internal mechanics, It's not the government which can claim credit as much as the private sector can.

Similarly, the huge remittance economy has largely been a product of the migrants themselves rather than any initiative or policy of the government. Even today, though the government claims a bigger share in the decision making process, it's the informal sector that makes all the differences including deciding destinations. GOB is more active than before but the sector remains largely informal.

The social sector is largely NGO driven though the health sector is a product of government-NGO initiatives but much of the great push that improved Bangladesh's HDI are at best joint products of the private public initiative.

The biggest player in all of them is the people themselves. From the massive reduction of extreme poverty to creating demand for immunization, the often unstated critical player is the People who constitute the largest informal sector in the country. Thus the Bangladesh success story that now circulates much more than ever nowadays is not about the formal sector but the informal one. We generally therefore have a state which is dominated by the informal although the official governing institutions are formal. It's an odd contradiction with which we have not come to terms with. We can get angry with its failings but we neither explore nor explain why it's so.

Informal politics, formal structure

This applies to our electoral mechanisms as well. Barring a short period - 1991 and 2007 = three regimes =16 years, our formal political life has been unorthodox formally to say the least. The mechanism called the neutral caretaker government system is an admission that we hadn't graduated to holding elections under normal regime governments.

It's not just about the mutual mistrust but lack of the system's capacity to process formal political institutions. After all these years, the demand remains for non-party government elections proving that progress has not been achieved. Aside from the polemics about the many political experiments - from one party rule to martial law to NCG multi-party elections to whatever is happening now would qualify more as failures in establishing a stable political system through the formal political systems. They remain as unformed as they were in 1972.

So if the public is very skeptical about the potential and possibility of the EC playing a major role in the political future of Bangladesh, can they be blamed given the track record we have?

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