The development of democracy in Bangladesh, a nation renowned for its extensive cultural and religious diversity, is at a crucial juncture. It cannot be emphasized how important it is for everyone to have equal representation in parliament, especially religious minorities. The significance of ensuring equal representation of religious minorities in Bangladesh’s parliament for a fair and robust democracy will be discussed in this article. We will also assess the achievements of the Awami League government and offer suggestions for bridging the representation equity gap.
The Need for Proportional Representation
Every successful democracy must uphold the idea of equal representation. It guarantees that everyone, regardless of ethnicity or religious preference, has a say in determining the course and policies of the nation (Panday, 2010). It is crucial to secure proportionate representation in Bangladesh’s parliament due to the nation’s diversified population and the existence of several religious minorities.
350 people are now seated in Bangladesh’s parliament, comprising 300 elected representatives and 50 appointed ones. Despite the huge population, it is essential to make sure that each person is fairly represented in parliament. The focus is on religious minorities, who might be underrepresented in parliament (Akter, 2021).
Moreover, there are several reasons why religious minorities need to be appropriately represented. In the first place, it guarantees equal representation for all residents and consideration of their viewpoints. This strengthens social bonds and lessens the possibility of prejudice and marginalization (Barikdar, 2023). The second benefit is that it guarantees the parliament’s representation of the whole populace, which is essential to a successful democracy. Additionally, it encourages the spread of inclusivity and political involvement.
Bangladesh may take a number of steps to guarantee that religious minorities are fairly represented in the legislature. One strategy for assuring minorities’ representation in the legislature is to reserve seats for them. Another choice to encourage political parties to think about nominating minority candidates for election is to implement quotas. Additionally, outreach initiatives might be put in place to boost minority representation in the legislature and inspire them to get involved in politics (Islam, 2016).
Progress Made by the Awami League Government
Since Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League government came into office, Bangladesh has made significant strides in terms of the proportion of religious minorities in the population. The government’s accomplishments show that it is committed to inclusion and diversity (Jahan, 2012).
To improve the representation of religious minorities in parliament, the Awami League administration has taken a number of actions. For example, the government has set aside seats in local government bodies for women and minorities to increase their representation in decision-making. The government has also established quotas for political parties to propose candidates from underrepresented groups, which has encouraged them to run minority candidates (Barikdar, 2023).
Without sufficient representation, Bangladesh is silencing the views of religious minorities, which may lead to the country becoming monotheistic. Since 1998, over half of the country’s religious minority have either departed or diminished. In twenty years, there may be no religious minorities left. It is critical to encourage more members of minority groups to run for office in the 2018 parliamentary election. As a consequence of initiatives to boost religious minorities’ participation in parliament, ten more members of parliament from religious minority communities were elected in the 2018 general election than in the previous one. More work must be done to ensure that religious minorities in Bangladesh are adequately and effectively represented (Minority Rights Group International, 2016).
The Ongoing Struggle: More Work Needed
Although the Awami League administration has made improvements in its efforts to increase the participation of religious minorities in the parliament, there is always potential for improvement. Finding places where representational gaps still exist and taking extra steps to close them are essential. The goal should be to ensure that each religious minority has enough and effective representation in parliament (Minority Rights Group International, 2016).
The allotment of minority-only seats is one area where there are persistent representation discrepancies. There are presently no seats specifically designated for minorities, other from the 50 allotted seats, which are chosen by whoever forms the government. Minorities must compete against other candidates for general seats, which can be difficult because they have less access to funding and support.
The choice of minority candidates by political parties is another instance of the persistence of representational imbalances. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami party completely failed, despite quotas that were put in place to encourage parties to nominate minority candidates. Numerous things, including ignorance, prejudice, and discrimination, may be to blame for this (Panday, 2010).
There are steps that must be made in order to bridge these representational gaps. By allocating reserved seats, minorities, for instance, might be certain of representation in the national parliament. Political parties may also be persuaded to choose minority candidates by offering rewards like financing or recognition. Outreach initiatives can also be implemented to raise awareness and motivate minorities to get involved in politics (Akter, 2021).
Making certain that minorities are effectively and meaningfully represented is also critical. Minority representatives must be permitted to participate in decision-making processes in order to properly represent the interests of their communities. Establish financing for campaigns to support underrepresented candidates, in accordance with democratic traditions in nations such as the United States, in order to boost the representation of religious minorities in parliament. This strategy makes necessary personnel, funding, resources, and training accessible to empower minority members and enable fair access to political opportunities (Jahan, 2015).
Significance for Democracy
Another feature of a democratic society that goes beyond the presence of laws and institutions is the equal participation of all members of a community. Religious minorities must have proportional representation in the legislature for several reasons:
a. Preventing Discrimination: A diverse parliament protects minority rights and assists in bias reduction. When minorities are represented in the parliament, the parliament can take action to address their concerns and issues (Jahan, 2012).
b. Safeguarding Minority Interests: Because religious minorities typically have unique challenges, it is critical to keep their concerns in mind when making judgments. Minorities who are represented in parliament have a say in proposing policies that benefit their areas and assuring the preservation of their rights.
c. Promoting Social Cohesion: A parliament that reflects the diversity of the public promotes social cohesion and generates a feeling of national identity. The involvement of minorities in parliament conveys a message of inclusiveness and develops a sense of community among all inhabitants.
d. Reducing Marginalization: Having equal representation among all citizens decreases the potential of marginalization and creates a sense of belonging. When minorities are represented in parliament, they believe that their voices are heard and that they are included in decision-making (Mostofa, 2021).
Evaluating incumbents and proposed candidates
Religious minorities must have proportional representation in parliament for Bangladesh to establish a democratic and equitable democracy that will persist. To achieve this aim, it is critical to identify areas where representation gaps still exist and take specific effort to address them. One way for accomplishing this is to consider a diverse variety of candidates for the next parliamentary election, including both present and freshly proposed candidates (Islam, 2016). The list below offers a list of few current legislators from different district’s as well as probable candidates for the next election. Some incumbents should be retained, while others should be replaced with new, proposed candidates, according to the chart. For example, while some contemporary leaders have done an excellent job of increasing the representation of religious minorities, others have not. Some of the possible candidates also have unique talents and experiences that might benefit their communities while also advancing diversity and inclusivity in the legislature. Bangladesh can narrow the representation equity gap in the upcoming legislature and create a just and long-lasting democracy by taking into account a wide range of candidates.
These candidates have a wonderful opportunity to assist the next legislature in closing the representation equity gap. This is critical as Bangladesh moves toward middle-income status while maintaining a functional democracy, emphasizing the need of diverse representation. Here is a list of prospective candidates from various districts:
Tagorgoan -1: Ramesh Chandra Sen,
Dinajpur – 1: Barada Bhushan Roy Liton,
Kurigram-2: Sana Lal Baxshi (Alak),
Nogoan -1: Sadhan Chandra Mazumder,
Jassore -4: Ranjit Kumar Roy,
Jassore -5: Swapan Bhattacharjee,
Magura -2: Shri Biren Sikder,
Khulna – 1: Panchanan Biswas or Nantu Roy,
Khulna – 5: Narayon Chandra Chanda,
Khulna – 6: Eng.Pram Kumar Mondal,
Barguna – 1: Dhirendra Nath Shambhu,
Barishal -4: Pankaj Debnath,
Pirojpur-1: Mihir Kanti Majumder or Kanai Lal Biswas,
Jamalpur -5: Bijon Kumar Chanda,
Mymensingh – 1: Jewel Areng,
Mymensingh – 8: Shyamal Chakraborty,
Netrokona -1: Manu Majumder,
Netrokona -3: Ashim Kumar Ukil,
Kishoregonj-5: Subrata Paul,
Munshiganj-1: Eng. Subrata Sarkar,
Munshiganj-3: Mrinal Kanti Das,
Faridpur-3: Shayma Prashad Adhkari or Jashodha Jibon Debnath,
Sunamganj-1: Ranjit Sarkar,
Sunamganj-2: Barister Dalton Talukder,
Habiganj-3: Ashok Madhab Roy,
Comilla-7: Pran Gopal Datta,
Chandpur -3: Sujit Roy Nandi,
Chattogram-6: Debashis Palit,
Chattogram-8: Sukumar Chaowdhury,
Chattogram-9: Adv. Rana Das Gupta,
KhagraChhori: Kujendra Lal Tripura, Rangamati: Dipankar Talukder, Bandarband: Bir Bahadur U Shwe Sing, Sutrapur: Adv. Godinda C. Parmanik.
The proportionate representation of religious minorities in Bangladesh’s parliament is a vital component in establishing a fair and long-lasting democracy. It is the responsibility of both the government and civil society to work in order to ensure that all persons, regardless of religious beliefs, have a major role in the administration of their nation. Bangladesh’s democracy, social cohesion, and risk of discrimination and marginalization may all be enhanced by enacting laws that support diverse representation and encourage minority participation.
Akter, N. (2021). Proportional Representation System Whether Significance for Bangladesh: An Analysis. Journal of Social and Political Sciences, 4(3).
Mostofa, S. M. (2021, December 4). Minority rights at stake in Bangladesh. East Asia Forum. https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2021/12/04/minority-rights-at-stake-in-bangladesh/
Islam, S. N. (2016). Proportional Election as a Way to Stabilize Democracy in Bangladesh. In S. R. Chowdhury, & D. R. Howlader (Eds.), Bangladesh: Politics, Economy and Civil Society (pp. 67-80). Palgrave Macmillan. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1057/9781137542540_5
Jahan, R. (2012). The Parliament of Bangladesh: Challenges and Way Forward. CPD-CMI Policy Brief. Retrieved from https://www.cmi.no/publications/file/4425-the-parliament-of-bangladesh.pdf
Minority Rights Group International. (2016). Bangladesh: The State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2016. https://minorityrights.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/MRG_Rep_Ban_Oct16_ONLINE.pdf
Panday, P. K. (2010). Proportional representation in Bangladesh: A critical analysis. Journal of Third World Studies, 27(2), 169-184. https://www.jstor.org/stable/20445157
Barikdar, A. (2023, May 11). Minority Rights: Global and Bangladesh perspectives. LinkedIn. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/minority-global-bangladesh-perspectives-antoni-barikdar/
About the Author: Dr. Dilip Nath is a think tank executive leader in the higher education and healthcare vertical. By passion a voting right advocate, human Rights defender and a political activist. A Harvard Kennedy School Alumnus who deeply care about the transparent public policy and its correct implementation in government
Views expressed in this article are the author’s own.