Development can be defined as organized growth associated with the desired change in attitude, institutions, conditions of production and living standard of people. It ensures the availability of basic life sustaining goods, creates more jobs, provides better education, health and security, uplift the social and cultural conditions and restores self respect and humanistic values. By democracy we mean legitimate government originating from freely given consent of the citizens, existence of competitive political parties in which the majority respects the rights of minorities, access to alternative sources of information, freedom of association and active involvement of institutions which limit the power of the government and ensure accountability. In democracy political leaders become accountable to the citizens through the electoral channel at specified points in time; state institutions and employees are accountable to some other specified state institutions by law, rules and regulations and finally the state is accountable through ongoing watchdog functions of civic associations, NGOs and independent mass media. The scale of democracy in a country is measured by a set of political characteristics: such as the manner in which political leaders are selected, the degree of freedom of assembly and mass media, the extent of political representation and suffrage, the existence of political parties that are based on political and social ideologies rather than on religion or ethnicity, the manner of functioning of the judicial system, reasonable expectation of the rotation of power and the means of achieving it.
Development and democracy have numerous channels of association. Many of the socio-economic conditions necessary for development overlap with those that are also required for the evolution of democracy. First, for economic development, the sufficient growth of a domestic professional middle class is needed to increase aggregate demand of an economy. It also lessens overall domestic inequality by bridging the gaps between vast degree of wealth on the one hand, and widespread abject poverty, on the other. The growth of educated middle class permits informed political choices, which helps establish participatory democracy in a country. Second, both the quantity and quality of education enable an agrarian economy to transform into one that is industrial. This transition is essential to the process of economic development. Increasing levels of literacy permit wide exposure to multiple types of mass communication and has the potential to generate an informed community which is essential for democracy. Third, the process of urbanization has impact on both economic and political development. Urbanization reduces the cost of industrialization and increases political awareness. But it enhances economic and social dualism by raising social and political tensions and impedes the rise of democracy. Finally, shifting economic development towards open development strategies politically generates a higher degree of exposure to developed-country political ideologies, especially through the spread of mass media and internet. The internalization of the new political norms by the middle class can lead to the articulation of demands for greater domestic democracy. It may lead to anti-government sentiments that take the form of anti-government demonstrations and hence political instability.
Irma Adelman and Morris in their study of 1960 and 1990 discussed the factors behind the association between democracy and developments. They found that, during the 1960s, in the least developed countries (mainly Sub-Saharan Africa) the statistical relationship between the rate of growth of per capita GNP and democracy was quite weak and negative. Countries with more autocratic, more repressive regimes had more economic growth. By the 1990s, the mild indication that less democracy was associated with faster economic growth has been replaced by an equally mild indication that greater democracy is associated with more rapid growth. The study also found close association between the strength of leadership commitment to economic development and the rate of economic growth. The Adelman-Morris statistical results are consistent with those of other empirical studies by Alesina (1997) and Barro (1991, 1997). Alisena found small correlation between indicators of democracy and growth, whereas, Barro found large correlations between rates of growth of per capita GNP and indicators of democracy. Authors believe that higher levels of social and institutional development are essential to the attainment of both greater democracy and higher levels of economic development. All the developed countries in the world are matured democracies and most of them are located in Europe and North America. However, experience of democracy in Asia is variable. Some sort of benevolent authoritarianism with priority based economic development worked better for the development of South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. However, South Korea is a matured democracy today.
Bangladesh after its independence in 1971 had passed through various directions like one party system, military rule, autocracy, democracy etc. Our average GDP growth rate was only 1.2 per cent between 1975 and1988 under the military and autocratic regimes (World Bank data). After 1991 in democratic regime two main political parties, alternately won the elections and formed governments. Smaller parties also contested and have joined the major parties in forming coalition governments. The growth rate increased to more than 5 per cent in the decade after 2000. Democratic environment boosted our economic growth and enhanced the ability of attaining international obligations like MDGs. We had robust GDP growth of 3.3 per cent between 1991 and 2003 and more than 5 per cent average annual growth onwards from 2005 (World Bank data). The per capita GNI has been rising steadily and Bangladesh has already crossed the threshold level to become a low middle-income country. Agriculture, apparel, small and medium enterprises and the service sectors are playing major role in the development process.
Our past experience tells that a weaker democracy eventually leads to the weakening of checks and balances between the organs of the state, creating a favourable environment for lack of transparency, accountability, bad governance and widespread corruption. Within such an environment, even if larger steps by the state are taken to accelerate development, negative externalities will damage the efforts of the government, reduce effectiveness of the measures taken and decrease returns from the investments made. Investment scenario continues to remain less than expected level due to uncertainty and apprehensions about the reappearance of political violence. Corruption is a burden on development and it raises the cost of development, thus undermining the prospect of future and further development. This vicious cycle should be stopped to accelerate the pace of development and to take advantage of our regional and global position. Bangladesh is developing and further progress is beyond doubt. But we are going through a transition period in terms of economic and political transformations. Absence of democratic political culture within the political parties is a negative side of our political transformation. Corruption and politicization of civil-military bureaucracy is putting barriers in front of our path towards progress. Civil society advocacy and observations are not welcomed mostly. But on the brighter side we have a growing middle class, vibrant male female workforce, and free print/electronic media that can contribute largely to the establishment of an inclusive democracy within society. We need to bear in mind that democracy alone may not be sufficient to ensure economic development rather good governance and rule of law will also be needed. A smoothly functioning democracy with sound governance ensured by strong state institutions can secure all-round development. The spirit of our liberation war is adequately captured in the four principles which have guided our constitution --- Democracy, Nationalism, Secularism and Social justice ---have to be protected by any means. Those who try to justify by telling that there is a trade-off between democracy and development may end up with neither.r
The writers are students of Dhaka University MDS
programme for the Bangladesh Bank officials