Bangladesh’s current ruling party, Awami League (AL), and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have been re-elected to power as polls close on an election marred by boycotts and political protests.
Hasina has been in power since 2009 and this is her fifth term in power - but her fourth consecutive win in the elections.
Bangladesh has been surging economically since 2009 under Hasina’s leadership. She’s overseen a tripling of per capita income, huge infrastructure projects, and a fast-growing economy that has seen more than 25 million people lifted out of poverty according to the World Bank.
But while the economy has rocketed, critics point to Hasina’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies as the cost of her success.
The Human Rights Watch has issued multiple statements against Hasina and AL, pointing to targeted violence and discrimination against AL’s main political opposition: the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its leader former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Previous elections have been marred by protests, violent clashes, and the questionable imprisonment of government detractors.
Towards the end of 2023, the opposition party BNP led anti-government protests, demanding Hasina resign and allow a caretaker government to oversee the January 7 election. She refused.
In one protest on October 28 a small number of people – including a police officer – were killed during protests and hundreds injured. A nationwide crackdown followed, with thousands of opposition figures and supporters being arrested.
Following further unrest and protests, the BNP promised to boycott the polls.
A boycott from BNP left Bangladesh's nearly 120 million voters with limited choices. Hasina and the AL have pledged that the elections will still be free and fair, with 28 out of 44 registered parties running in the elections.
However, these parties are much smaller and have never drawn large portions of the vote in previous election cycles. On top of that, a large portion of smaller independent candidates are also AL-aligned, leaving only an illusion of choice.
Despite the election result, Hasina and AL are facing international pressure to hold free and fair elections, with trade risks in the balance.
Bangladesh finds itself in a delicate position. The garment industry is its main source of exports and the US is one of its biggest buyers, with EU countries also importing a lot of Bangladeshi garments. Undemocratic elections could invite sanctions and trade restrictions as a reprimand. On the other hand, Bangladesh can look to China – another big customer – as a power wanting to build influence in South Asia.
- Asia Media Centre
Banner image: Wikimedia Commons