Sunday 14 October 2012

Any end to political blame game?

Any end to political blame game?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Any end to political blame game?

Mo Chaudhury

Political blame game is the practice of scapegoating the competing political parties for any failure or untoward event and unpopular outcomes in general. The purpose of this commentary is to explore why blame game continues to be a popular political trick and if there is a way to end its hold on politics in Bangladesh.

According to the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, researchers find that, in the end, blame game is not beneficial at the personal, group or organisation level. One explanation of this counterproductive behaviour is the virus of goal contagion, namely, one is driven to protect ego or self-image because others are doing the same. The prescribed remedial steps include constructive criticism, ownership of failure and learning from mistakes.

Given that the war rooms of political parties are quite astute, we would have observed more prevalence of such practices in politics if blame game were counterproductive in this arena. Instead, blame game has become the most anticipated strategy in politics perhaps because the electorate is not astute enough to see through the blame game maneuvers and/or not informed enough to determine true culpability, may view the blame game as a socially acceptable practice, and may not have a meaningful alternative choice (when all viable parties practice the blame game). The greater these electorate deficits are, the more aggressive the political parties may be in using blame game as a politicking tool, ultimately leading to a poor state of democracy and governance.

That blame game has taken a crushing hold on politics in Bangladesh with all of its ill consequences for the country is amply demonstrated by rampant blame and counter-blame by the ruling regime and the opposition alliance in the context of a series of recent controversies (Grameen Bank and Dr. M. Yunus, Padma Bridge financing), alleged scandals (railgate, Destiny, Hall-Mark and share markets scams), and crimes (Sagar-Runi murder, abduction of BNP MP Mr. Ilyas). However, the most blatant episode of blame game broke out following the September 29 Ramu-Ukhia incidents of violence against the Buddhist minority.

Let us explore the political landscape of Bangladesh that continues to permit and incentivise blame game even when it is utterly irresponsible, insensitive and disgraceful, like the latest one. First, despite steady strides in literacy and political awareness of the population, the vast majority of the electorate and even the grassroot party activists are still not savvy enough to decipher top level political maneuvers and theatrics. That a possibly fabricated blasphemous photo on Facebook succeeded in unleashing violence against the Buddhist community indicates that the electorate will remain quite vulnerable to manipulations like blame game for the foreseeable future.

Second, due to technological advancement and affordable access to communication networks (TV, mobile phones and internet), information now travels across the land at an unprecedented clip. Unfortunately, so does misinformation, making malicious campaigns (as witnessed in Ramu-Ukhia) and political spinning (like the ensuing blame game) more cost effective and time efficient than ever before. What is possible, however, is to leverage the same technologies to improve the transparency of governance of the state and that within the political parties and the judicial process.

The Padma Bridge financing crisis is a glaring example where inadequate and sporadic release of pertinent and often conflicting information has spawned a multilateral and global blame game that has been detrimental to the country's vital interest. Learning from that experience, a multi-party and multi-ethnic taskforce to oversee the investigation of the Ramu-Ukhia incidents can significantly improve the transparency, speed and credibility of the process, and thus save the victims and the population at large from the agony of a protracted blame game.

Third, blame game does appear to be a socially acceptable practice in Bangladesh. The political leaders and holders of high offices over many regimes have consistently declined to take ownership of their failures. Hitherto, no leader of a major political party has voluntarily taken the responsibility of a colossal electoral defeat and resigned, and no minister has yet voluntarily resigned either for massive governance failures or to make room for unhindered investigation of such failures.

Other efforts to cure the virus of goal contagion, such as constructive criticism, are also rather foreign to the political landscape of Bangladesh. Despite seemingly endless cycles of blame game and practically non-existent diligence to mitigate this infection, there is no electoral evidence that the population is sufficiently disturbed regarding this matter. Based on widely reported public sentiment, the Ramu-Ukhia centered blame game, however, appears to have shattered that complacency. If public outrage about this proceeds unabated, there is hope that blame games will finally start to recede.

Lastly, the trend of electoral alliances has practically confined the electoral choice to two grand alliances that are equally happy and mighty combatants of blame game. Since each knows that the other won't relent and there is no other viable alternative than these two grand alliances, neither has any incentive to stop blame game. In principle, an election act that prohibits electoral alliances (while permitting post-election coalition government in the absence of absolute majority) has the potential to dislodge the current grand alliances, and thereby to make room for political parties that can commit to healthier democratic practices and no blame game. But in reality, the prospect for such an act is quite slim since neither of the two grand alliances has any incentive to initiate such an act.

To conclude, the most promising path of making blame games unpalatable and politically unworthy to the political parties is for the people to remain united and unrelenting in expressing their disdain for the Ramu-Ukhia political blame game. If this blame game is not immoral, what is? If now is not the time to eradicate the virus of blame game in Bangladesh, then when is?

The writer is a Professor of Practice in Finance at McGill University, Montreal, Canada.


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