After The Election, Where Is Bangladesh Heading?

In the 21st-century the economy of Bangladesh has witnessed a tremendous change. Once a low-income country, Bangladesh is now ranked 41st within the world economy, taking the second place in South Asia (India currently being first). It is believed that the growth will continue and that  Bangladesh will become the 24th biggest economy by 2033. Aside from economic development, starting this year, Bangladesh’s passport will allow its citizens to visit 41 countries visa-free. This proof of the nation’s increased globalization also sees improvement from its previous rankings.  

Yet development and prosperity do not work to fully define Bangladesh. It is reported that workers from over 100 garment factories, including popular brands like H&M and Nike, went on strike for the change in minimum wage policy. The workers believe that the government’s decision to lift the payment actually brings very few benefits. On January 11th, as the demonstrations went on for over 5 days, the conflicts between protesters and police become violent. Over 70 were injured with one death case reported thus far.

Yet, one iconic figure, Sheikh Hasina, permeates all the domestic changes and inner turmoils in Bangladesh. During December 2018 Sheikh Hasina was re-elected as prime minister. At the age of 71, this is her fourth term, making her the first prime mister in Bangladesh to be in power for more than 10 years. She is known among her supporters as the “mother of humanity.” The nickname being paradoxically associated with her due to her opening of the border to Rohingya refugees, despite her jailing of opponents and her limitations on the freedom of the press. 

In early January, a 35-year-old man was arrested and received a seven-year sentence for posting a distorted photo of Sheikh Hasina on his Facebook. This incident drew large public attention, mostly scrutinizing the country’s strict internet control. Another arrest in July 2018 involved a photographer, Shahidul Alam was, who was charged under the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) law. After having spoken to Al Jazeera on the matter, Alam could possibly be facing a sentence of up to 14 years. 

In reply to all accusation made within and outside the country, Sheikh Hasina told The New York Times during an interview, “I can provide food, jobs and health care, that is human rights.” She further showed her confidence in leading her country by saying “I know my country, and I know how to develop my country.”

There is little doubt that Sheikh Hasina does contribute a great effort for the progress in Bangladesh. Since the start of her political career in 1981, she has won over many supporters as a capable leader rather than solely as the daughter of her country’s former and first president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

However, after revealing the stories that lie behind her successful election, some start to question whether her tendencies dictatorially limit human rights. Such concerns may not only lead to the withdrawal of her supporters in Bangladesh but may also influence international allies. Since export has been one of the most vital reasons for the economically prosperous in Bangladesh, the country may face risks by losing its global economic connections.