Economic development key to Hasina’s reelection

By Zhang Xiaoyu Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/2 9:43:39

The 11th Parliamentary Election of Bangladesh concluded on the evening of December 30th with Awami League Alliance winning thumping victory. The alliance is led by the country's current Prime Minister and the President of Awami League Sheikh Hasina. This is an unprecedented feat in the country's political history as no other leader in Bangladesh has been able to win a third term. The ruling coalition won 288 of 300 seats in parliament.

Hasina was sworn in as the Prime Minister for the first time in 1996, steering her party to power after a long gap of 21 years. In 2008, she led her party to win more than two-thirds of seats in parliament. After that, Awami League retained power in the 2014 polls which were boycotted by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led alliance. In 2018, the country went to the polls after a 10 year wait for a participatory election. And this time, the opposition coalition Jatiya Oikya Front (National Unity Front), which is led by the former Foreign Minister Kamal Hossain, did not get any chance to win the majority seats. Notably, Hasina's traditional archrival, the former Prime Minister and the chairperson of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), Khaleda Zia, was absent this time. Zia was previously jailed on corruption charges and she is currently serving a 17-year sentence in Dhaka.

As a mature politician, Sheikh Hasina didn't win by chance. In the past decade, Bangladesh had achieved success in economic growth and development under her rule. Bangladesh was once the poorest country in South Asia and also one of the least developed countries in the world. But now, Bangladesh has become a model for other South Asian countries as it portrays itself. Its economy grew by an average of 6.3 percent a year over the past decade. In 2017, it expanded by 7.3 percent, faster than India's or Pakistan's, and reached 7.86 percent in 2017/18 fiscal year. Moreover, it boasts lower infant mortality, higher school enrolment and longer life expectancy than its peers. According to the World Bank statistics, rapid economic growth enabled the country to reach the lower middle-income country status in 2015. In 2018, Bangladesh fulfilled all three eligibility criteria for graduation from the UN's Least Developed Countries (LDC) list for the first time and is on track for graduation in 2024.

On the international stage, Bangladesh played an active role in fighting terrorism and provided temporary resettlement of Rohingya refugees. In 2016, after an assault by Islamic militants in which 20 hostages, including 17 foreigners, were killed, security officials under Hasina launched a massive crackdown and effectively destroyed their network. Hasina's security officials have killed more than 60 radical Islamists, including some commanders, since 2016 in a zero-tolerance campaign against hard-liners. Besides, Hasina and her government have been lauded for the humanitarian treatment of Muslim Rohingya refugees fleeing from Myanmar. She ordered border guards to open the frontier for Rohingyas, allowing more than 700,000 refugees to take shelter in camps near the city of Cox's Bazar. Despite some external pressure, she has maintained a policy of voluntary return.

Moreover, Hasina's foreign policies gained Bangladesh more space for a self-determined development. As a neighbor of India, Bangladesh has enhanced ties with other countries without irritating New Delhi. It is noteworthy that, during the past decade, Sino-Bangladeshi relationships improved dramatically and this was marked by the Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the country in 2016. During the visit, Bangladesh officially joined the Belt and Road initiative and the two countries' relationship was promoted to "strategic partnership of cooperation." Since the visit, Beijing and Dhaka have signed eight projects worth over $9.45 billion funded by China. Those include the Padma Bridge rail link worth $3.3 billion, the power plant in Payra worth $1.9 billion, power grid network strengthening project worth $1.32 billion. The sustained economic growth of Bangladesh has rapidly increased the demand for energy and transportation. There is no wonder that Chinese investments help Bangladesh to meet their development demands.

Since the democratic elections began in Bangladesh, politics has been characterized by an all-or-nothing confrontation between the ruling Awami League and its main rival BNP. Disputes are most commonly settled not in parliamentary debates or at the ballot box, but through paralyzing strikes or hartals. The development of the country was not discussed and the people's desire for a better life was not cherished. After Hasina took office in 2008, it seems the political turbulence temporarily came to an end in Bangladesh. This time, Sheikh Hasina has won another five years to continue her policies and fulfill her goals. Although Bangladesh has long way to go in creating more jobs, stabilizing financial markets, making more time-befitting industrial policy and fighting corruption, it is quite necessary for the Bangladeshi people to understand that stability and continuity are essential to take the country to sustainable development and institutionalization of democracy.

The author is a lecturer in Bengali Studies, Communication University of China. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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