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When Corruption is an Emergency: 'Good Governance' Coups and Bangladesh

43 Pages Posted: 28 Mar 2012 Last revised: 1 Mar 2014

Nick Robinson

Yale Law School; Harvard Law School, Program on the Legal Profession; Center for Policy Research (India)

Nawreen Sattar

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: March 26, 2012


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.

Keywords: corruption, Supreme Court, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Thailand, good governance, Military coup, constitutionalism, judiciary

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Robinson, Nick and Sattar, Nawreen, When Corruption is an Emergency: 'Good Governance' Coups and Bangladesh (March 26, 2012). Fordham International Law Journal, Vol. 35, No. 737, 2012. Available at SSRN:

Nick Robinson (Contact Author)

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

Harvard Law School, Program on the Legal Profession ( email )

1563 Massachusetts Ave
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Center for Policy Research (India) ( email )

Dharma Marg
New Delhi, 110022

Nawreen Sattar

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

No Address Available

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