Electoral Institutions in Bangladesh: A Study of Conflicts Between the Formal and the Informal

PhD defended at: 

School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London


Adeeba Aziz Khan



This thesis studies formal institutions, which are expected to ensure good electoral governance in Bangladesh, such as the Election Commission, the Judiciary and Parliament. The thesis shows how these constitutionally mandated bodies of accountability contribute to the weakening of the electoral regime through partisan law making and unequal rule application with an end to giving undue advantage to the executive of the day. The study relies on traditional theories of informal institutions such as patronage and clientelism to explain the weaknesses in formal institutions. Given the difficulties of democratic consolidation faced by Bangladesh, the thesis contends that the operative framework for studying elections and electoral institutions in Bangladesh must go beyond the sole study of the regulatory framework or of electoral corruption, to include informal institutions and processes within formal institutions. To understand the puzzle of weak electoral institutions and failing democratic consolidation in Bangladesh, and answer questions such as whose interests formal institutions are representing, what channels of influence are being used and why these channels exist, it is necessary to understand the actual existing social and power relations.
This research presents specific case studies to illustrate the consequences of phenomena including clientelism, patronage, corruption, dynastic politics, politicization and other informal behavior within formal institutions (along with formal regulatory weaknesses). The case studies demonstrate how these informal patterns weaken formal electoral institutions, resulting in partisan and personalized electoral laws and application of these laws. Partisan electoral laws and unequal application of the laws by different arms of the state in turn lead to political violence, which has serious consequences for democratic consolidation. The study is ethnographic and relies strongly on knowledge gained in the field. This research contributes to a deeper understanding of the relationship between formal law and informal institutions in Bangladesh.

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International Insitute for Asian Studies