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Banagladesh's current regime held two staged elections in 2014 and 2018. They are preparing for another one.

The PM first took control of the election commission, judiciary, and police by planting party stooges and party activists. Then she marginalized the main opposition either by enforcing disappearances or throwing them into jail by registering fake criminal cases. Then she staged a fake election in cooperation with another opposition party that is much weaker. Ballots were stuffed overnight. The voters went go to the voting centers and saw that their votes are already cast.

Those elections were 'staged' elections because voter turnout was almost zero, ballots were stuffed overnight rather than on the election day, and the opposition party was in arrangement with the regime.

Why is it possible for Bangladesh to hold fake elections but impossible in a Western liberal democracy like, say, Australia?

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  • Shouldn't the question be, "why is Bangladesh political system more corrupt than Australia" ? Aug 8, 2023 at 9:33
  • So, are your question expecting an answer on the constitutional/legal possibility of holding fake elections ? Aug 8, 2023 at 9:56

4 Answers 4

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It's not that the Australian PM can't do this, it's that - at least in public perception - he will run into heavy opposition if he tries. When the Australian PM tells his party stooge "go stuff ballot", the party stooge will respond with "are you serious?" and when the Australian PM says he is, the party stooge will kick up a ruckus, report the PM to the party disciplinary board, or go to the media.

Why would an Australian party stooge do this but not a Bangladeshi party stooge? That's where culture comes in. At least in public perception, Bangladeshi politicians have less integrity, are more open to being bribed, etc.

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    Also it's illegal. Aug 5, 2023 at 14:11
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    @DJClayworth, So, you mean, it is illegal in Australia, but legal in Bangladesh?
    – user366312
    Aug 5, 2023 at 15:30
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    It would get even harder at other stages. The PM does have power of his party stooge. He can order him to do things (although not illegal things). However, he doesn't have any direct power of judges or the police force. He can't order an arrest and if someone was arrested he can't easily influence the judge. Separation of powers at work.
    – quarague
    Aug 5, 2023 at 18:05
  • Before the Australian PM can tell "go stuff ballot", s/he has to "take control of the electoral commission", which is quite a challenge in itself.
    – Zeus
    Aug 7, 2023 at 2:36
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It is possible in Bangladesh and it's possible everywhere. The actors involved all need to agree on the outcome. This is more difficult in countries where separation of powers is in full effect. If at least one power (army, government, parliament, judiciary, secret services, etc) does not agree, it's unlikely to work. But it is not impossible.

So the Australian PM might try to fix elections. But the army might not agree. Or the secret services. Usually those entities with actual fire power keep things in check.

To accumulate such power and control takes time, which is difficult in an established democracy with term limits (they are implemented precisely to prevent someone building such influence over time). But not impossible. Just very unlikely.

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    This is a meta-answer. Then the follow-up question is: why in Bangladesh do all stakeholders agree in staging an election, but in Australia, they don't?
    – user366312
    Aug 5, 2023 at 13:15
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    Your question is open ended, so you got an open ended answer. In Bangladesh everyone agrees because everyone has something to gain. In Australia it may not be the case. Your question is akin to "why rigged elections work?". The answer is "because nobody cares enough to do something about it". Democracy is a gentleman agreement between multiple parties, it's not some law of physics that prevent people from doing rigged elections.
    – Ccm
    Aug 5, 2023 at 13:20
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    Democracy is fit for all nations, but nations need a level of tolerance, experience, trauma and education to be able to function as a democracy. All the western democracies were totalitarian regimes at some point, they evolved out of it, often times violently. All nations need to go through this evolution. Not all countries are at the same stage. Eventually, Bangladesh might stop rigging elections - just like communist Poland did.
    – Ccm
    Aug 5, 2023 at 13:27
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    @user366312 Democracy is not a gentleman's agreement between party and there are a lot of checks and balances in place in many countries to keep things safe.
    – Joe W
    Aug 5, 2023 at 13:59
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    The checks and balances are the gentleman agreement. If people are not willing to stick to them, democracy can't work. You underestimate how fragile democracy is.
    – Ccm
    Aug 5, 2023 at 15:07
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Bangladesh is a young democracy. All democracies go through this phase where politicians find loopholes in the system to manipulate the elections. Good political parties then try to plug these loopholes. Even in the world's oldest democracy political parties still go to the court to try and overturn elections results alleging fraud (see - A sampling of recent election fraud cases from across the United States). In India (the world's largest democracy) too, booth capturing and ballot stuffing was once common. Even in Australia, electoral frauds were common enough that laws had to be made to counter it but some Australian political parties still allege that electoral frauds happen even today.

The evolution of democratic values totally depends on the political leadership.

Mrs. Shiek Hasina is an admirer of the former Prime Minister of India Mrs. Indira Gandhi, a staunch democrat who too had an authoritarian tendency when she entered politics and struggled.

... Ms. Hasina said: “We had nowhere to go at that time [after the massacre of her family in 1975]. Our government did not allow us to return to our homeland. It was Indira Gandhi who gave us shelter. We took political asylum and stayed in Delhi for six years. She was truly like our mother.” - The Hindu, January 12, 2010

Hence it is not far fetched to believe Mrs. Hasina draws inspiration from Mrs. Indira Gandhi's style of politics, while trying to figure out her own unique path.

Like her inspiring father, the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh does believe in democracy. But she also understands the reality of Bangladesh politics:

  1. Political violence is a fact there - her father, a hugely popular leader, was assassinated and 18 members of her family, including her 10-year-old brother, and relatives were massacred. She had to seek refuge abroad to survive.

  2. Bangladesh has also seen many military coups.

  3. Some opposition parties of Bangladesh are backed by the military.

  4. Some lean towards religious fundamentalism.

  5. Foreign powers - USA (and other western countries acting in cohort with the US), China and India - often interfere in Bangladesh's internal affairs.

It's really tough to navigate such hurdles to become a good democracy. (Just look at India for a great example - it was a flourishing democracy that today is struggling under electoral autocracy because Modi and his organisation are deliberately damaging the democratic institutions to be in power).

Mrs. Hasina is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh, and has imbibed her father's political values. She has lived abroad in democratic countries, in both the west and the east, and understands it well. All these factors, along with her undeniable popularity with the masses currently makes her the best option that Bangladesh politics has to slowly evolve into a true and fair democracy.

Both Bangladesh and Mrs. Hasina need time to evolve.

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    Besides that, this answer is not answering the question. The question is "Why is it possible?". But what this answer actually does is justify the election fraud in Bangladesh, not explain what circumstances make it possible in the first place.
    – Philipp
    Aug 6, 2023 at 8:16
  • @Philipp Thanks for the heads up about the site - I only read the article and while I did have a doubt about the site I was in a hurry to post and thus didn't scrutinize it. My answer does offer an explanation to why electoral fraud in Bangladesh is easy - its history is replete with undemocratic politics and it is a young and struggling democracy. Leaders like Mrs. Hasina and Mrs. Gandhi are like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk and Tito who believe in democracy but also think their society needs a leader who shouldn't shy from being authoritarian.
    – sfxedit
    Aug 6, 2023 at 19:08
  • (Oops not Tito, but the Egyptian leader Nasser).
    – sfxedit
    Aug 6, 2023 at 19:19
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    From the two Australian links, there is no inference that "frauds were common enough". Having a built-in mechanism to prevent various types of fraud does not imply that it was reactive and that fraud were common. The most commonly reported fraud is multiple voting, because ID verification is very lax. But that type of fraud is done by individual activists and is inherently less problematic than systemic fraud by parties/government. Also, compulsory voting and high turnout (90+%) makes ballot stuffing more difficult (than elsewhere)...
    – Zeus
    Aug 7, 2023 at 3:07
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    ...More serious fraud where candidates are involved generally happens at the local (council) elections, and even then is rare and scandalous. Finally, the second link effectively says that some freaks claim that fraud is widespread (even before the actual elections). It doesn't mean it actually is.
    – Zeus
    Aug 7, 2023 at 3:12
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This just seems racist to me. Aka East is bad and West is good.

It was democracy that put Hitler into power and more recently we have Trump saying ad nauseam that the last election was fraudulent with a large proportion of the popolation of the United States behind him.

Democracy, as Plato noted, is a hard act to pull off well. This is why he disapproved of it. When Nehru indicated that he was going to turn India into a democracy, most observers were horrified. They said it wouldn't work. Yet this massive democratic experimemt has held up despite all its flaws. Likewise with Bangladesh.

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