Finally, on 30th January 2023, Bangladesh successfully secured loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). For the last seven months since July 2022, intense negotiations took place which also became a political scoop for Bangladesh’s political parties. Oppositions and pressure groups resorted to mass persuasion using rhetoric and ‘charlatan’ predictions and analysis to decrease citizens’ confidence in the incumbent government. For a while, they were successful in creating skepticism about whether Bangladesh would get the loans or not. Such skepticism also induced unnecessary alarm, stress, confusion, and uncertainty, and created friction in the country. Looking back at that rhetoric, and half-cooked predictions, it seems there is a ‘post-Truth’ politics at play in Bangladesh regarding the IMF loan.
What is ‘Post-Truth’ Politics?
Post-truth politics, also called post-factual politics and post-reality politics, is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by repetition of the framed statement, it ignores objective rebuttals to it. Post-truth politics is largely applied by populist political parties to pursue the masses. It is a very modern concept that has become popular in academia since 2015 to understand contemporary phenomena.
As the narratives are framed based on emotions and personal beliefs rather than objectivity, academics, political leaders, and commentators become very important in shaping them. In post-truth politics, disinformation, false or fabricated news, rumor, conspiracy theories, and manufactured controversies are widely used to shape public opinion or ‘gaslight’ the public into confusion and fuel dissidence.
IMF Loan and ‘Manufactured Controversies’
Like most of the global South, Bangladesh also started to experience an economic recession due to the prolonged pandemic and Ukraine crisis since the beginning of 2022. Soaring inflation, fluctuating foreign exchange reserves, and energy shortages is hurting the country since then.
Many pundits, opposition, and pressure groups took the situation as an opportunity to score some political gains. They started to say that Bangladesh would not be able to bounce back and would ultimately embrace the fate of the newly bankrupt Sri Lanka.
Dr. Reza Kibria, the Convener of Gono Odhikar Parishad- a populist pressure group eyeing to become a political party in Bangladesh also said that the country will soon face the same fate as Sri Lanka. Mr. Kibria is a seasoned economist who also worked as the Chief Economist for IMF. But his remarks also suggest that he ignored objectivity and attempted to manufacture a narrative.
In July, Bangladesh started to negotiate with IMF for possible loans under Credit Facility (ECF) and Extended Fund Facility (EFF), and the new Resilience and Sustainability Facility (RSF) scheme. These are mainly budgetary and balance of payment support programs offered by the IMF. And Bangladesh took the loans as precautionary measures. Immediately after the news, many spread misinformation by labeling the loans as a ‘Bailout’. To tackle such misinformation, the government had to clarify repeatedly.
Even after the clarifying, the issue didn’t stop. Instead, it morphed into another debate of whether Bangladesh will get the loans or not. Dr. Kibria also said that IMF is not ‘Mamar Bari’ (Uncle) for the government, meaning Bangladesh will not get the loan. He also made several social media vlogs regarding the issue. He also said on another occasion that it will be difficult for the government to get the loans. Many Pundits and political party-affiliates started to question the strength of Bangladesh’s economy and provided fabricated analyses portraying it took weak to avail of the loans. Their rhetoric and fabricated analysis were so convincing that they successfully created skepticism and confusion among the people regarding the loan and the strength of Bangladesh’s economy. Many commoners started to believe that Bangladesh will not get the loans due to poor economic conditions.
However, Bangladesh ultimately secured the loan and received the first installment in the first week of February, probably to the dismay of many political persons including Dr. Kibria. It proves that the predictions and analysis were fabricated intentionally and the aim was to create a manufactured controversy.
As the Gono Odhikar Parishad is a populist party, and the commentators and dissident political party affiliates resort to populism to attract a large fanbase, it seems they were invested in post-truth politics and hence, rejected objectivity regarding Bangladesh’s economy.
Politicization of IMF loan
Normally, such economic turmoil or crisis is hardly any matter of party politics unless the problem lies in management. Bangladesh’s economic recession is largely attributed to the pandemic and war and has the least to do with management. As a result, it is a state matter and requires a consensus among the political parties to deal with effectively.
Even in Pakistan, where the political situation is boiling after Imran Khan’s ousting, and depleted forex reserve; economic turmoil and IMF bailout is dealt with as a state matter. Incumbent Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has invited all party leaders including his archrival Imran Khan to a meeting and it seems Pakistan is looking for an all-party consensus in this regard.
Unfortunately, the desperate opposition and dissidents have turned into a party-politics that aimed only to increase pressure on the government. Amid this political score, the collateral was the people’s confidence in the state system and political government. Therefore, it’s a classic example of post-truth politics where public opinions are deliberately created by the populist political parties rejecting objectivity in pursuing mass people. However, it is detrimental to the state, society, liberal-democratic political culture, and the economy.
In conclusion, the IMF debate was never supposed to be a scoop for party politics. The unnecessary alarms and frictions are also detrimental to our state system. The IMF loans and related political narratives over the last seven or eight months reveal that post-truth politics is becoming a popular method among the political parties that are concealing objectivity and influencing public opinions based on emotions and interest. Such practice is detrimental to our political culture and democratic values. Hence it must be stopped otherwise a wave of populism may hurt us in near future.
Shafiqul Elahi is a retired