Thursday, January 1, 2009

Oxford Analytica on Bangladesh Elections

British think-tank the Oxford Analytica has offered the following observations on Bangladesh's elections:

National circumspection. Despite the peaceful election, clear AL victory and likely weakness of any challenge to the result, many Bangladeshis remain hesitant about the prospects of democracy:

Over-confidence. Many worry that the AL's mandate will result in over-confidence. The AL might impose its secular agenda too aggressively on what many see as a piously Muslim country, or pursue its enemies on corruption charges.

Bangladesh's first-past-the-post system means the scale of the AL's majority does not represent the extent of its support, adding to uncertainty; while it has a clear mandate, the BNP still polled only 30% of the popular vote.

Backlash. Many within the AL are concerned that defeat for the Islamist-leaning BNP and its allies will result in an attempt to destabilise secular politics through a campaign of violence. The army's central role in the administration during the last 23 months -- as well as international pressure -- has kept a lid on political violence, and the army's withdrawal now could see law and order deteriorate.

However, Sheikh Hasina has stressed the need for the AL to work with the defeated opposition. The AL has been elected on a moderate, realistic platform to develop the country and reduce poverty by 2021 that attracted popular support. While there are questions about Hasina and Khaleda Zia's continuing role in national politics and corruption remains an issue, most Bangladeshis see the high price of essential commodities as the priority, which the AL has promised to tackle.

CONCLUSION: The AL has scored a major victory in this week's return to democracy, leaving the BNP to decide how to respond. A consensual approach would lift Bangladesh's political prospects, but there is a risk that the AL might overreach itself on the perceived strength of its mandate.

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