When Corruption is an Emergency: The Anti-Corruption Paradox and Bangladesh
The fight against corruption is central to the good governance agenda of development organizations around the world. However, this article argues that anti-corruption efforts in countries with politically active militaries present a paradox: Corruption clearly can undermine democratic institutions, but so can anti-corruption campaigns. Both domestic and international actors are hesitant to point out corruption in the military due to its revered status as the protector of the country. Yet, in not criticizing they help perpetuate an asymmetry in which politicians are seen as corrupt and incompetent, while the military is viewed as disciplined and incorruptible.
This article uses the case study of the Bangladesh 2007-08 military coup–and to a lesser extent, similar recent coups in Pakistan and Thailand–to show how militaries have not only justified “good governance” coups on anti-corruption grounds, but used charges of corruption to carry them out. It further argues that although good governance rhetoric is potentially destabilizing to democracy in these countries, it can also empower the judiciary, as the military seeks out judicial validation to show that it is providing better, and in many ways more “legal,” governance than civilian politicians. The article ends by calling on anticorruption advocates to adapt a more politically savvy strategy that does not ignore military corruption and focuses on institutions, processes, democratic elections, and consistent prosecution of low-level actors.