First News
Volume:8, Number:02
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COVER STORY
THIS WEEK

Mixing Money With Politics

Growing number of businessmen entering politics and growing number of politicians entering business have created a money-based culture that threatens to debase both

| Khondoker Tazuddin |

In a democratic country, people from any socio-economic background are allowed to enter politics. While Bangladeshi politics used to be dominated by professional politicians, people from other professional background had direct and/or indirect involvement in it as well. Law, business, and farming were the three most common occupations of the lawmakers elected in the country's first parliament.

However, the country’s politics has pretty much gone into the pockets of businessmen over the last few decades. About 80 percent of the lawmakers in Bangladesh are business owners, while almost 68 percent MPs in parliament are businessmen by profession.

The rise of businessmen and industrialists in politics is a great threat to democracy. Parliamentary activities include making laws and overseeing government activities. With so many businesspeople in the position of making legislations and policies, conflict of interest and misuse of power are inevitable. Instead of being the house of people, parliament is being turned into a place where businessmen can form policies to maximize their profits at times disregarding national interest. In the end, it is the mass people and their country that are being neglected in the larger scheme of things.Growing number of businessmen entering politics and growing number of politicians entering business have created a money-based culture that threatens to debase both

History and Current Situation

In countries like Bangladesh or India, democratic politics is open to people with a criminal background as well. The Association for Democratic Reforms of India analyzed legal backgrounds of the MPs elected in its 16th parliament. It found that 34 percent of the winners have criminal cases pending against them, whilst 21 percent lawmakers have serious charges including murder, attempt to murder, communal disharmony, kidnapping, and crimes against women. The sworn affidavits of the elected MPs of the 10th parliament of Bangladesh show that 10.33 percent of them have ongoing cases against them while 46 percent had charges pressed against them in the past.

The dominance of businessmen in our political sphere has effectively turned politics into a lucrative business. However, this is not an overnight phenomenon; it is a process that took years to reach where it is today. Of the MPs elected in the 1954 election, only 4 percent were businessmen and industrialists. In the first parliamentary election of independent Bangladesh in 1973, the number increased to 13 percent. Only six years after the first election, the segment of businessmen and industrialists in parliamentary politics increased to 34 percent in the second parliamentary election held during the martial law regime led by major general Ziaur Rahman in 1979.

This trend continued during the second martial law regime led by Hussain Mohammad Ershad. The military rulers brought businessmen into politics to form their own political parties in an attempt to legitimize their illegal power grabs. Till this day, bringing businessmen into politics is one of the most lasting damages military regimes have done to our politics. In the seventh parliament formed in June 1996, 48 percent of the MPs were businessmen and industrialists by profession. The percentage of businessmen and industrialists turned MPs went up to 52.10 in the eighth parliament formed after the 2001 election, and 63 percent In the ninth parliament constituted in January 2009.

Since the 10th parliamentary polls in 2014 were boycotted by the main opposition party, 153 MPS were elected uncontested. Although there is no exact data available about the number of MPs who are businessmen in the present parliament, their sworn affidavits show that 54.33 percent of them are businessmen by profession. According to vernacular daily Bangladesh Protidin, 206 out of the 300 MPs of Bangladesh are businessmen, which makes up to 69 percent of the total MPs. Not only that, most of the Bangladeshi MPs are multi-mil-lionaires, and they possess properties both at home and abroad. Compared to many developed countries in the world, the percentage of businessmen MPs is significantly higher in Bangladesh. About 38 percent of the congressmen in the US are businessmen, whereas the UK has only 25 percent businessmen in the House of Commons. Of the elected MPs in Indian Loksabha, 20 percent are businessmen, 27 percent agricultural workers and 24 percent are professional politicians.

There used to be a time when most politicians in our country were solely involved in politics; it was their only occupation. However, nowadays not only businessmen are turning politicians, the politicians too are venturing into various business projects. This tendency is creating an alliance between some politicians and businessmen, completely excluding popular interests. Political power gives these businessmen so many opportunities to fold and mold policies and legislations to their own advantage. As a result, the politics of Bangladesh is virtually under the thumbs of the businessmen.

First News

Rehman Sobhan Eminent economist

In Bangladesh, politics has largely been transformed into a lucrative business. There was a time when the lower-middle-class section of the society dominated the political sphere. However, the table has been turned. Businessmen are investing a lot of money to be a part of the government, and they expect hefty profits in return. This system is creating a lot of irregularities in the society. Nowadays, politics is following the trail of money. In many cases, the poor cannot even file GDs in the local police station, let alone expecting any justic e. The leading political figures of our country including Bangaband hu Sheikh Mujib, Tajuddin Ahmed, and Tofail Ahmed hailed from lowincome families, but nowadays politics is almost exclusive to t he rich and powerful. The commercialization of politics is a global phe nomenon. We are witnessing it in many developed countries includin g the USA as well. The politically influential businessmen are using t heir political affiliation to create more disparity in the society.

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Dr. Badiul Alam Majumder Sujan secretary

The democratic political system is inclu - sive of people from every walks of life, and businesspersons are no exception to this rule. However, which profession is dominating the political field, or how much control do they have over the system should be carefully dis - cussed and assessed. It is closely related to the standard, condition, and future of democracy in our country. Recently our president Md. Abdul Hamid lamented that the coun - try’s politics has gone into the pockets of business people. Ea rlier, chief justice SK Sinha pointed out that while 90 percent of the congr essmen in the US are students of law, 80 percent of the Bangladeshi la wmakers are businessmen. This abnormal concentration of businessmen in our legislative politics is quite worrying because the country’ s politics is now in the hands of the business people. Those who have money a re controlling our politics.

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Sultana Kamal Former adviser of caretaker government

Business and politics always maintain a close tie. In every country of the world, busi - nessmen provide a big chunk of the fund - ing and donations to the political parties. Bangladesh is no exception to that practice. In the 50s and 60s, when businessmen had very limited presence in politics, they still were the main source of funding for the parties. If we look at the professional background of the elected representatives chronologically from 1954 to 2014, we will see how much the presence of the businessmen has increased in o ur politics. In the post-independence Bangladesh, politics gradually slipped from the hands of dedicated politicians and fell right into the hands of businessmen. Military rulers Ziaur Rahman and Hussain Muhammad Ershad lured businessmen into politics. Later, Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina finalized their presence. All of them have been great hel ping hands behind the rise of businessmen in politics.

Another Threat to Democracy

Democracy in Bangladesh is facing a multitude of problems. The election system, one of the foundations of democracy, has been turned into a farce. The local government elections that were held after the highly controversial January 5, 2014 national polls were not transparent or proper by any means. During the last three stages of the Upazila elections, many irregularities and fraudulent activities including stamping of ballot papers the night before the election took place. Because of these highly controvertial elections, the mass people are not being able to choose the representatives they want. To make the matter worse, parliament is largely dominated by rich industrialists and businessmen who have very little connection with the mass people.

In a speech on October 2015, president Abdul Hamid lamented the domination of businessmen in politics. “It is a matter of regret that today’s politics has gone into the pockets of businessmen. It is one of the biggest stigmas our country is dealing with. If someone wants to accumulate assets in illegal ways, there are many businesses to do so. This kind of people should not come to politics,” said the veteran politician. The main concern about the overwhelming presence of businessmen in politics is that they use the money to buy their way up the political ladder. Many of them hardly have any popularity among voters, but they are getting party nominations in every kind of election. All of the big political parties in the country are guilty of selling nominations to rich businessmen for any kind of election. There are talks about buying the ministerial positions as well.

Parliament has essentially become a millionaires’ club. Except for a handful of MPs, everyone is a multimillionaire. These rich businessmen are not only detached from the mass people but also unlikely to ever take steps that will go against their business interests. Even in India, influential businessmen do not get directly involved in politics. They have their representatives among the MPs and ministers. However, when an influential busi-nessmen or owner of a big corporate house becomes minister or MP, she or he is unlikely to use power for her or his own business. Let alone the interest of the commoners, the greater interest of the business class will be overlooked for the sake of personal benefit. By doing so, the capitalist system will be hampered, so will the national economy.

The Gradual Takeover

In the Indian subcontinent, industrialists and business tycoons always maintained close ties with the government. Business tycoons like Tata, Birla, Ispahani, and Adamjee used to give hefty donations to Congress and Muslim League in exchange of a wide array of favors. After partition and during the rule of field marshal Ayub Khan, a huge rise was seen in the participation of businessmen and contractors in the politics of the undivided Pakistan. However, those businessmen did not have any political aspiration - they were simply profit driven. They never got directly involved in politics, neither did they ever contested for the positions of ministers or MPs.

In the post-liberation Bangladesh, the number of businessmen in parliament increased by manifolds in each of the elections. In the 1973 elec-tion, the first parliamentary election of independent Bangladesh, 13 percent of the total MPs were businessmen and industrialists. Only six years after the first election, the segment of businessmen and industrialists in parliamentary politics increased to 35 percent in the second parliamentary election in 1979. By the seventh parliament in June 1996, businessmen and industrialists occupied 48 percent seats in parliament. The percentage went up to 51 in the eighth parliament formed after the 2001 election. In the ninth parliament constituted in January 2009, 63 percent of the MPs were businessmen, which increased up to almost 69 percent in the10th parliament.

The businessman is dominating the 10th parliament, while a few lawyers and even fewer number of professional politicians are tagging along. According to available data, out of the 350 MPs, 214 are businessmen, 48 are lawyers and only 22 are professional politicians. Among the businessmen MPs, 170 are from Awami League, 24 from Jatiya Party, 6 from Jasod, Tarkiat Federation, Workers’ Party and JP, and 14 are ‘independent’ MPs.Even the president of the country is concerned about the monopoly of businessmen in parliament. In a seminar in Kishoreganj, president Abdul Hamid said, “Students no longer need to study to become MPs or ministers. The brilliant students will join services, become secretaries or judges. Politics has gone to the pockets of the businessmen.”

First News

M Sakhawat Hossain Former election commissioner

Many of the politicians today do not have any political background. They do not have the experience of struggle and sacrifice many seasoned politicians have. They got a place in the political parties because of their financial powers. There is no sense of competitiveness in their leadership. They are only interested in their personal benefits and amassing more money and power. Our politics have reached such a critical point where the public representatives are getting engaged in criminal and illegal act ivities to strengthen their positions within the party. As a result, they are straying further away from mass people. We can no longer let the sacred ground of politics get polluted like this. Nominations should not be s old in exchange of money. Letting politics go to the pockets of unprof essional politicians is a huge mistake for which the country will have t o pay dearly, if not paying already.

First News

Prof. A. Q. Md. Fazlul Huq Department of Bengali, Dhaka University

Compared to India, Bangladesh has a much higher concentration of businessmen in poli - tics. In fact, businessmen have outnumbered all the other professionals in parliament. This is not at all good for country’s democracy. A position in parliament opens up lots of new doors to businessmen. They can easily found banks, insurance companies, and private universities. Getting license for container ships and starting pretty much any kind of business becomes easier. S ome of the businessmen turned politicians have invested millions of taka in their business and amassed an unbelievably high amount of we alth within a short period of time. Their bank balance increased by 586 times, land assets 143 times and annual income 79 times. Their spouses’ assets increased by manifolds as well. Instead of working for t he betterment of people, most of these businessmen have been turned i nto moneymaking machines. It is not a good sign for our country.

From Politician to Godfather

A big complaint against many public representatives and politicians is that they are involved in a wide range of criminal activities. Their involvement is not limited to mere participation, they often get infamy for their alleged leadership roles in serious crimes. Many politicians are grooming and nurturing criminals to use them as political weapons. The reason for such worrisome condition is that politics is no longer under the control of the politicians. The actions of the corrupt money-hungry politicians can best be described as the terrorization of politics.Political scientists, criminolo-gists, socialists, public administration researchers, and other experts have identified a number of reasons behind this politician-to-godfather transformation. Lack of accountability and transparency in the political parties, nomination trade, ineffective parliament, profit-driven political activities, nepotism and area-based bias in candidate selection, misuse of money and muscle power, oppression on the opponents, etc., are some of the driving factors that contribute to a politician/ public representative’s transformation into a godfather.

Businessmen Turn Lawmakers. Apart from professional politicians, lawyers used to dominate the country’s political sphere. There was a time when lawyers were lawmakers, drafting and formulating all the necessary policies. While they earned their livelihood from their law practice, their legal knowledge and input were essential for the formulation of policies and legislation for the country. Many of the renowned political figures in this subcontinent, including Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammad Ali Zinnah, A.K. Fazlul Haque, Nurul Amin, Ataur Rahman Khan, and Jyoti Basu were lawyers. Successful US presidents Bill Clinton and Barak Obama, former British prime minister Tony Blair and his wife Chery Blair were lawyers as well. So, the transition from law to politics is a tried and tested success worldwide.

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was a full-time politician, so are prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and BNP chief Khaleda Zia. According to the data from the secretariat, there are only 48 lawyers among the 350 member in the10th parliament. It means instead of lawyers, more businessmen have the power to write and finalize policies in this parliament. With the majority of the parliamentary seats in the hands of businessmen and so little presence of MPs with specialized legal knowledge, how can we expect that legislations are going to serve mass people’s interests?

The Changing Course of Politics

the change of time, politics in our country is going through a lot of changes. These changes are bound to impact our lives, directly or indirectly. Unfortunately, our politics is straying away from the masses. One of the burning questions of this moment is whether democracy in Bangladesh is truly by the people, for the people and of the people, or is it just an excuse for a group to exploit the people to further their own vested interests? If politics is intended to serve people, honesty, integrity and morality work as its main components. On the other hand, when used for the personal interests of the politicians, politics can completely work against the national interest of a country.

While politics should be an internal matter of a country, external pressure from other countries often moves it away from the common people. If the politicians’ personal interests trump their patriotism, a country’s sovereignty comes under stress. Currently, our country is facing all of the problems mentioned above. It is a shameful turn of event, considering how selfless and sacrificing the founding figures of our politics used to be. Bangladesh was able to earn its much-awaited independence because of the selfless, all-inclusive leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. When the interests of the masses become the focal point, politics tend to rely on honesty and morality. However, when attaining power and money becomes the main motivation, individual-centric politics takes away the all-encompassing ability of democracy. The culture of commercialization of politics has changed the course of politics in our country, for the worst. A politician’s personal sacrifice for the country and his or her party are the most effective ways to inspire the people. Mahatma Gandhi’s advocacy of non-violent politics, and Nelson Mandela’s actions against racism at the cost of his freedom, etc., are great examples of selfless leadership. Bangabandhu too had to spend a big chunk of his life in prison to make the voice of the masses heard.

However, the mentality of personal sacrifice is becoming less important as time goes by. Real politicians and political activists are disappearing from the political field, and businessmen are taking over. As a result, the course of politics is shifting from sacrifice to greed. This trend gained pace after the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August 15, 1975. The post-75 rulers laid emphasis on money and this mindset fueled the practice of earning money illegally. As a result, politics started to get into the grip of businessmen instead of political activists/ leaders. Many grassroots-level leaders/ activists, who worked relentlessly for the betterment of the party were pushed aside while businessmen with no political background started to climb up the political ladder solely because of their financial strength. Eventually, the real leaders/activists became inactive, and the businessmen, after attaining their desired political power, used it as a means to maximize their profits in business. A real leader/activist works for the country and the party even if his or her party no longer is in power. However, those who took politics as a means to facilitate their businesses, change their political affiliation, ethics, and morality based on who is in power. There is no room for loyalty, as the desire of making more profit becomes their sole goal.

If we analyze Bangladesh’s current political context, a clear detachment between the grassroots leaders/ activists and central leaders is seen. Grassroots leaders/activists can hardly rely on the central leaders these days. This lack of trust is painfully visible in various national issues. Alongside, the tendency of personal attack and lack of mutual respect among the politicians are tarnishing their image to general people. In the past, many respected and qualified people used to get involved in politics. However, considering the public image of the politicians, they do not want to get directly involved in politics at all.

The Reasons

One interesting fact about the businessmens’ growing interest in politics is that it was not deliberate at the beginning. When they were not directly involved in politics, they had to pay hefty amounts of donations to all the political parties.

Some of the businessmen entered politics to avoid this donation making. Once they got the taste of power and realized how much profit they could make by mixing politics with business, they wholeheartedly started to pursue politics. Because of their political affiliation, they no longer have to give donations to all the political parties. The money they spend on their own party is nothing but an investment which gives them a wide range of facilities. Positions in parliament and/or cabinet give them prestige and extensive facilities. The power to direct policies, access to the bureaucracy, composite legislatures, etc., are great lures to the businessmen turned politicians.

On the other hand, the political parties are making things easy for the businessmen by embarking on nomination trade. The process of candidate selection in the elections has been turned into a moneymaking mechanism in Bangladeshi politics. This practice allows wealthy businessmen and industrialists to take the center stage in politics, depriving dedicated politicians. All the major political parties have the culture of buying and selling nominations. The culture of moneymaking in politics is the result of malpractices and absence of transparency in internal party financial transactions. Political leaders are not held accountable for their financial transactions or handling of donations made by party members.

Controversial RPO Amendment

On October 28, 2013, parliament passed the Representation of the People Order (Amendment) Bill. The amendment annulled the previously mandatory provision that only candidates who had completed at least three years as a member of a registered party could be nominated for parliamentary election. The other changes also allow the free flow of black money and party hopping of the leaders. These changes are particularly beneficial for the businessmen who can now use their black money to buy nomination, and change party affiliation when needed. Even the members of unregistered political parties such as Bangladesh Jamaate- Islami can now contest the elections under the banner of Bangladesh Awami League or any other party. Political analysts have univocally raised their concerns about this amendment, considering it as yet another opportunity of involving businessmen in politics.

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