The result of Bangladesh’s 12th parliamentary election on January 7, 2024, came as no surprise: Prime Minister Sheik Hasina coasted to her fourth electoral victory while her Awami League picked up 223 of 300 parliamentary seats, nearly 75% of the legislature’s “voting shares.”
Electoral drubbings of this magnitude are possible when the winning candidate is an incumbent, has the backing of the state apparatus, has demonstrated successful stewardship of the nation’s foreign relations and economy and enjoys a mostly sympathetic media establishment.
Moreover, victory is all the easier when opposition candidates lack stature and/or the major opposition party boycotts the election outright, as the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) did this year and in previous elections. The BNP claimed a fair election under the incumbent was not possible.
40% of eligible Bangladeshi voters participated in the election, according to Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal, who initially stirred confusion by putting the figure at 28% at a press briefing after polling was closed.
Still, some members of the Dhaka press corps – both foreign and domestic – were of the view that 40% was a low turnout that called into question the legitimacy of the vote.
That is odd, of course, considering the United Kingdom’s participation rate in the EU’s 2019 Parliamentary election was 37.2%; few suggested that this turnout was so low as to undermine the legitimacy of that election result.
When foreign media outlets tried to take Hasina to task for not meeting with the opposition, she coolly shot back: “Is US President Biden holding dialogue with Mr. Trump? If Biden sits with Trump for dialogue, then I will hold dialogue with [the] opposition.”
Hasina’s platform, governing style and personal traits clearly resonated with Bangladeshi voters, which I personally witnessed while serving as an official election observer and speaking with many people in Dhaka, the national capital.
It didn’t hurt that Hasina had a clear pre-election lock on women voters. Also playing into her hands were extensive reports in the Bangladesh media about possible foreign meddling in the election.
Efforts to dragoon Bangladesh into the liberal globalist hive conjure memories of the country’s colonial past and do not go down well with the average Bangladeshi.
It’s not clear the result would have been markedly different had the BNP chosen to play ball and contest the polls. Hasina ran on a platform that US politicians of yore regarded as the key to electoral success: peace and prosperity.
The World Bank, for one, recently said “Bangladesh has an inspiring story of growth and development, aspiring to be an upper middle-income country by 2031.” This statement is no routine marketing blurb; the country’s strong recent growth rates point to significant economic progress.
According to the Asia Development Bank, Bangladesh’s GDP grew by 6.9%, 7.1%, 6.0% in 2021, 2022 and 2023, respectively, and is projected to grow by 6.5% in 2024. With numbers like these, why would voters want to change horses in midstream?
In foreign affairs, Hasina has heaps of hands-on experience; her opponents, next to none. Her various appearances on the world stage have played well inside Bangladesh, giving her a decided advantage over any opposition challengers.
So has her foreign policy of “strategic autonomy,” which is captured in the phrase of Bangladesh’s Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – the father of the nation – to wit: “Friendship to all and malice towards none.”
Neither the country’s leadership nor the broad electorate have any interest in stoking up tensions abroad or signing up to any foreign power’s agenda. Rather, they aim to focus on their own problems and priorities and pursue peace generally.
At the United Nations General Assembly last September 2023, for example, Hasina said: “We must make all efforts to collectively address the common challenges of humanity to secure a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable future for all. And, for that, we must choose unity, solidarity and multilateralism over fragmentation, insularity and isolation.”
In her many media appearances, Hasina likes to call for the continued “strategic transformation of the economy” so that Bangladesh can become a high-middle-income country over the next decade. This is a policy goal few Bangladeshi voters would quibble with.
Note: The above views are the author’s personal observations after the election and are not related to the remarks of the internationally certified election observers.