Md. Saeed Anwar and Abdur Razzak
Political culture is a distinctive and patterned form of
political philosophy that consists of beliefs on how
governmental, political, and economic life should be carried
out. It creates a framework for political change and are unique
to nations, states, and other groups. Political culture refers to
what people believe and feel about government, and how they
think people should act towards it. (Ahmed, 1989).
Politics is omnipresent… Rules are made and enforced in all human
communities within the country.
Robert Dahl is of the opinion that “Politics is any persistent
pattern in human relationships that involves, to a significant
extent, control, influence, power or authority.”
“Political culture”, it has been observed, “is one of the most popular
and seductive in political science; it is also one of the most
controversial and confused” Elkins and Simeon (1979:127).
The term was first employed by Lenin and White in 1979. They
used the term refer to the role of political education and mass
media in the Soviet Union.
Political culture can be defined as "The orientation of the citizens
of a nation toward politics, and their perceptions of political
legitimacy and the traditions of political practice," and the
feelings expressed by individuals in the position of the elected
offices that allow for the nurture of a political society.
Wyn Grant, Professor of Politics, University of Warwick, UK,
defines political culture as
“The attitudes, beliefs, and values which underpin the operation of a
particular political system. These were seen as including
knowledge and skills about the operation of the political system,
positive and negative emotional feelings towards it, and evaluative
judgments about the system. Particular regional, ethnic, or other
groups within a political system with their own distinctive sets of
values, attitudes, and beliefs were referred to as subcultures.”
"The political culture of a nation is the particular distribution of
patterns of orientation towards political objects among the
members of the nation." (Almond and Verba, 1963)
Characteristics of Political Culture
Political scientist Sidney Verba, describes the characteristics of
political culture as
System of empirical beliefs, expressive symbols, and values,
which defines the situation in which political action takes place.
Political culture is a distinctive and patterned form of political
philosophy that consists of beliefs on how governmental, political,
and economic life should be carried out.
It creates a framework for political change and are unique to
nations, states, and other groups.
A political culture differs from political ideology in that people
can disagree on an ideology (what government should do) but still
share a common political culture.
Some ideologies, however, are so critical of the status that they
require a fundamental change in the way government is operated,
and therefore embody different political culture as well.
The political system as internalized in the cognition, feelings and
evolutions of its population.
The political culture of a nation is the particular distribution
toward political objects among members of the nation”
( Gabriel and Verba,1965, p. 13)
Types of Political Culture
Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba outlined three pure types of
Parochial - Where citizens are only remotely aware of the
presence of central government, and live their lives near enough
regardless of the decisions taken by the state.
Subject - Where citizens are aware of central government, and are
heavily subjected to its decisions with little scope for dissent.
Participant - Citizens are able to influence the government in
various ways and they are affected by it.
Other Types of Political Culture
There are also some types of political culture, these are
Moral Political Culture
In this culture type society is held to be more important than the
individual. Individualism is not submerged in any way, but the group
recognizes the need of individuals to assign value to the group.
Government tends to be seen as a positive force. Politics is considered
one of the great activities of man in the search for the "good society.
(BBC News, 2010).
Individual Political Culture
In areas with this type of political culture, government is seen as having
a very practical orientation. Government is instituted for largely
utilitarian reasons. It need not have any direct concern with questions
of the "good society.” Government should be largely restricted to those
areas which encourage private initiative. (BBC News, 2010).
Traditional Political Culture
Social and family ties are prominent where this type of political
culture is found. This often means that some families run the
government and others have little to say about it. This reflects an
older attitude that embraces a hierarchical society as part of the
natural order of things. (BBC News, 2010).
The Historical Roots of Political Culture
The political culture of Bangladesh is an area which has hardly been
explored. The cultural basis of Bangladesh has been formed by
several religious traditions .There is very little information about the
prehistory of Bengal. (BBC News, 2010).
Thus the political ideologies in Bangladesh have mainly assumed
populist forms. Populism refers to any utopia espoused by some
oppressed groups to transform a given condition of society through
collective action on the assumption that the indigenous society is a
natural and homogeneous community. It is generally opposed to
big business. The Muslim league became a mass political party
headed by charismatic leaders like M.A Jinnah and A.K Fazlul
Haque. (Choudhury, 1972).
Political Parties and their Culture
Awami League formerly Awami Muslim League was established
on June 23 in 1949. In 1955 the word Muslim was dropped from
The BNP was formed on September 1 in 1978.
Jatiyo Party and Jamat-E Islam are the another political parties.
Both the parties have become quite old and matured, but the two
parties have not been seen making any effort to practice
Rather dictatorship in running party affairs seems getting stronger
day by day than democracy.
There is none in the two parties dare speak against any decision of
the party chairman or president even it goes wrong.
Democracy has remained in the paper; while a few have been
enjoying an economic boom, most of the citizens still live far
below the poverty line; economic injustice coupled with
lawlessness and corruption have put the country on the brink of a
total chaos. (Rahman, 2010).
Political Culture of Bangladesh
History of Political Culture of Bangladesh
Bangladesh's first government took oath of office in Meherpur,
Kushtia on April 10, 1971, after Major Ziaur Rahman initiated
the first revolt with his battalion against a brutal five division
army crackdown on the local people of Bangladesh, and declared
independence on March 26th 1971 in Chittagong.The
Bangladesh Forces was set up and organized under 11 Sectors to
conduct all operations pertaining towards independence from
Pakistan under the leadership of the Sector and Brigade
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, (1972-75)
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman came to administrative center with
immense personal popularity but had difficulty transforming this
popular support into the political strength needed to function as
head of government. (Background Note, 2008)
The new constitution, which came into force in 16 December
1972, created a strong executive prime minister, a largely
ceremonial presidency, an independent judiciary, and a
unicameral legislature. (Background Note, 2008)
The 1972 constitution adopted as state policy the Awami
League's (AL) four basic principles of nationalism, secularism,
socialism, and democracy. (Background Note, 2008)
The first parliamentary elections held under the 1972 constitution
were in 7 March 1973, with the Awami League winning a massive
majority. (Background Note, 2008).
After proclaiming a state of emergency, Mujib used his
parliamentary majority to win a constitutional amendment limiting
the powers of the legislative and judicial branches, establishing an
executive presidency, and instituting a one-party system, the
Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL), which all
members of Parliament (and senior civil and military officials)
were obliged to join. (Background Note, 2008).
Ziaur Rahman, (1975-81)
Successive military coups resulted in the emergence of Army
Chief of Staff General Ziaur Rahman ("Zia") as strongman. He
pledged the army's support to the civilian government headed by
President Chief Justice Sayem. (Background Note, 2008).
Acting at Zia's behest, Sayem dissolved Parliament, promising
fresh elections in 1977, and instituted martial law. (Background
Lifting the ban on political parties from Mujib's one party
BAKSAL rule, he sought to revitalize the demoralized
bureaucracy, to begin new economic development programs,
infrastructure buildup, a free press and to emphasize family
planning. (Background Note, 2008).
Zia invigorated a strong foreign policy based on sovereignty and
economic independence. (Background Note, 2008).
He initiated many social programs to uplift the poor through honest
hard work and education. His greatest legacy on the people of
Bangladesh was unity and self dependence. (Background Note,
Hussain Mohammed Ershad (1982-1990)
Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Hussain Mohammed Ershad assumed
power in the second, but, bloodless coup in March 24th 1982. To
strenghthen his hold on government Ershad suspended the
constitution and citing pervasive corruption, ineffectual government,
and economic mismanagement declared martial law. (Background
At the same time, the Jatiya (People's) Party, designed as
Ershad's political vehicle for the transition from martial law, was
established. (Background Note, 2008).
The Jatiya Party won a modest majority of the 300 elected seats
in the national assembly. The participation of the Awami League-
led by the late Prime Minister Mujib's daughter, Sheikh Hasina
Wazed-lent the elections some credibility, despite widespread
charges of voting irregularities.(Background Note, 2008).
Ershad easily outdistanced the remaining candidates, taking 84%
of the vote. Although Ershad's government claimed a turnout of
more than 50%, opposition leaders, and much of the foreign
press, estimated a far lower percentage and alleged voting
irregularities. (Background Note, 2008).
Khaleda Zia, (1991-96)
The center-right BNP won a plurality of seats and formed a
government with support from the Islamic party Jamaat-I-Islami,
with Khaleda Zia, widow of Ziaur Rahman, obtaining the post of
prime minister. (Background Note, 2008).
In March 1994, controversy over a parliamentary by-election,
which the opposition claimed the government had rigged, led to
an indefinite boycott of Parliament by the entire opposition.
(Background Note, 2008).
The opposition also began a program of repeated general strikes
to press its demand that Khaleda Zia's government resign and a
caretaker government supervise a general election. (Background
The opposition then continued a campaign of Marches,
demonstrations, and strikes in an effort to force the government to
resign. The opposition, including the Awami League's Sheikh
Hasina, pledged to boycott national elections scheduled for
February 15, 1996. (Background Note, 2008).
In February, Khaleda Zia was re-elected by a landslide in voting
boycotted and denounced as unfair by the three main opposition
parties. In March 1996, following escalating political turmoil, the
sitting Parliament enacted a constitutional amendment to allow a
neutral caretaker government to assume power and conduct new
parliamentary elections; former Chief Justice Mohammed Habibur
Rahman was named Chief Adviser (a position equivalent to prime
minister) in the interim government. (Background Note, 2008).
Sheikh Hasina, (1996-2001)
Sheikh Hasina formed what she called a "Government of National
Consensus" in June 1996, which included one minister from the
Jatiya Party and another from the Jatiyo Samajtantric Dal, a very
small leftist party. (Background Note, 2008).
The Jatiya Party never entered into a formal coalition arrangement,
and party president H.M. Ershad withdrew his support from the
government in September 1997. (Background Note, 2008).
International and domestic election observers found the June 1996
election free and fair, and ultimately, the BNP party decided to join
the new Parliament.
At the end of 1996, the BNP staged a parliamentary walkout
over this and other grievances but returned in January 1997
under a four-point agreement with the ruling party. (Background
Khaleda Zia, (2001-2006)
The four-party alliance led by the BNP won over a two-thirds
majority in Parliament. Begum Khaleda Zia was sworn in on
October 10, 2001, as Prime Minister for the third time (first in
1991, second after the February 15, 1996 elections). Background
Despite her August 2001 pledge and all election monitoring
groups declaring the election free and fair, Sheikh Hasina
condemned the election, rejected the results, and boycotted
Parliament. Background Note, 2008).
On August 17, 2005, near-synchronized blasts of improvised
explosive devices in 63 out of 64 administrative districts targeted
mainly government buildings and killed two persons. (Background
An extremist Islamist group named Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen
Bangladesh (JMB) claimed responsibility for the blasts and
subsequent attacks on the courts in several districts killed 28
people, including judges, lawyers, and police personnel guarding
the courts. (Background Note, 2008).
A government campaign against the Islamic extremists led to the
arrest of hundreds of senior and mid-level JMB leaders. Six top
JMB leaders were tried and sentenced to death for their role in the
murder of two judges. (Background Note, 2008).
Caretaker Government (2006-2008)
An Caretaker Government election was scheduled for the end of
2006, however it did not take place. The caretaker government was
accused of BNP bias by Hasina and her coalition, who fomented
nationwide protests and shutdowns. In January 2007, the head of
the caretaker government stepped down, many believe under
pressure from the military. (Background Note, 2008).
Fakhruddin Ahmed, former World Bank economist, was
selected to replace Yazuidin Ahmed and has committed
himself to rooting out corruption and preparing a better voter
list. Emergency law was declared and a massive campaign to
crack down on corruption is underway. By July 2007 some
200,000 people had been arrested. The government says it
will hold elections before the end of 2008. (Background Note,
Sheikh Hasina 2009-Present:
The Awami league won national election on December 29, 2008
as part of a larger electoral alliance that also included the Jatiya
Party led by former military ruler General Ershad as well as some
leftist parties. According to the Official Results, Bangladesh
Awami League won 230 out of 299 constituencies, and together
with its allies, had a total of 262 parliamentary seats.
(Background Note, 2008).
The Awami League and its allies received 57% of the total votes
cast. The AL alone got 48%, compared to 36% of the other major
alliance led by the BNP which by itself got 33% of the votes.
Sheikh Hasina, as party head, is the new Prime Minister. Her
term of office began in January, 2009. (Background Note, 2008).
• The current cabinet has several new faces, including three women
in prominent positions: Dr Dipu Moni (Foreign Minister), Matia
Chowdhury (Agriculture Minister) and Dr. Serin Sarmin
Choudhory speaker of Bangladesh Parliament. Younger MPs with
a link to assassinated members of the 1972-1975 AL government
are Syed Ashraful Islam, son of Syed Nazrul Islam, Sheikh
Taposh, son of Sheikh Fazlul Huq Moni, and Sohel Taj (but he is
not at present his position), son of Tajuddin Ahmad. (Dahl, 1994).
• Since 2009, the Awami League government faced several
major political challenges, including BDR (border security
force) mutiny, power crisis, unrest in garments industry and
stock market fluctuations, Destiny, Halmark and Padma
bridge corruption. Judicial achievements for the party
included restoring 1972 constitution (set by the first Awami
League government), beginning of war crimes trials, and
guilty verdicts in 1975 assassination or murder trial.
(Background Note, 2008)
According to the Nielsen 2 year survey, 50% felt the country was
moving in the right direction, and 36% gave the government a
favorable rating.(Background Note, 2008).
Critical Aspect of Political Culture in Bangladesh
The basic rights like freedom of speech, right to jobs available
locally and rights to justice are now subject to political connection
in Bangladesh because all government and autonomous bodies are
Political power primarily originates from the control over land,
labor and capital.
Bangladesh has had a very poor tradition of growing leadership
through democratic practices in the parties.
In our country politicians do not practice democracy within their
Since immoral anti-social elements in the society in most cases are
linked to some political sections, law is easily violated and justice
If there is any offensive activities in the society, the political identity
of the offenders becomes the major factor for judgment. Judgment
goes in favor of who are politically more powerful in the society.
Though there are provisions in the constitution of the parties for
selecting and electing party leaders in each tier, these provisions are
Patron-client relation between the powerful moneyed people and the
political parties is evident in the Bangladesh political culture.
Being the President or the Chairperson, the party chiefs enjoy
supreme authority, and unchallenged dictating power, which they
don’t want to lose in any case.
Party and family in the context of Bangladesh politic have been
synonymous to most of the common people, even to the party
activists. For example : Mujjib and Zia families. (Choudhury, 1972).
The fate of Bangladeshis depends on two political parties, the Awami
League and the BNP. Before the general election they present various
agenda related to people's welfare, but after election they forget
everything and seek only self-interest. They consider everything
politically. People of ruling party always get privilege.
The recent political violence in the country has claimed 60 lives including
six policemen. In addition, central party office of the opposition BNP was
raided by police. A major problem of politics is that the government
leaders do not mean what they say. We know that every action has a
reaction. So, bad political culture may bring adverse consequences. We
better keep it in mind that darkness cannot remove darkness. Similarly,
hate can not remove hatred. Finally, the real democracy and acute
disparity of economy were the main spirits of the liberation war of
Bangladesh. It is 42 years since Bangladesh became independent. We
could not go where we wanted to go. Our all achievements are being
diminished due to hostile, negative and damaging political cultures. We
have to come out from this culture if we want to start nation building
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