Local government institutions under authoritarian rule in Bangladesh

By Serdar Yilmaz and Syed Khaled Ahsan

Delving into the intricate layers of autocratization in South Asia, Local Government Institutions under Authoritarian Rule in Bangladesh by Serdar Yilmaz and Syed Khaled Ahsan reveals how in the shadow of authoritarianism the local government institutions in Bangladesh remains weak, limiting not only democracy but also the delivery of public services.

In the chapter, which is part of the Routledge Handbook of Autocratization in South Asia, Yilmaz and Ahsan conduct a comprehensive examination of the operational dynamics of local governance structures. The chapter meticulously outlines how the autocratization process has affected local democracy and local government institutions (LGIs) alike. The authors provide brief description of the process of the taming of local democracy and discusses the issues that impede the growth of the LGIs such as interference of the members of parliament (MPs) and civil servants, elimination of the opposition, uneven level playing field in the elections, monopolization, capacity challenge of the local government institutions and financial insolvency.

A significant portion of the chapter is devoted to examining in detail, the factors that inhibit local democracy and proper functioning of LGIs. The authors highlight two major problems that need to be tackled in order to make local democracy work in Bangladesh:

  • First is the “lack of capacity of LGIs, which is a function of autonomy”. Despite the roles assigned in the legal framework, local government institutions lack the means to independently perform those functions.
  • The second major hurdle is the “lack of financial resources for LGIs to perform their constitutionally assigned functions”. The financial insolvency and politicization of financing prevent the LGIs from developing the necessary capacities to be autonomous local government units in the service of their citizens.

Yilmaz and Ahsan conclude the chapter by reflecting on the critical issues facing local government institutions in Bangladesh under authoritarian rule. The authors underscore the destructive legacies of the government to monopolize and weaken the local government system. There is an increased attempt to centralize power, taking away autonomy and responsibilities from local governments. Such centralization reduces the scope for democratic practices and participation at the local level, signaling a broader trend of autocratization in Bangladesh.

Through a detailed and nuanced analysis, Yilmaz and Ahsan emphasize the importance of a strong and dynamic local government system that could counteract the trend of autocratization. By decentralizing power and fostering democratic practices at the local level there is a potential pathway to transition to a liberal democratic rule.

Read the full chapter here: Local government institutions under authoritarian rule in Bangladesh

Link to the Open Access Book: Routledge Handbook of Autocratization in South Asia (edited by Sten Widmalm)