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Bangladesh National Election 2024: Will Sheikh Hasina Win for the 4th Term?

How Sheikh Hasina Transformed Bangladesh

Bangladesh National Election 2024 set to be held on Sunday (January 07, 2024). The elections are expected to result in a fourth consecutive term for Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League, as the main opposition party, BNP, has decided to boycott the polls.

According to the country’s Election Commission, a staggering number of over 119.6 million registered voters are set to exercise their right to vote at more than 42,000 polling stations on Sunday.

Over 1,971 candidates from 28 political parties and 436 independent candidates will be participating in the upcoming election. The 12th general election, which will be conducted under strict security measures, will be closely monitored by more than 100 foreign observers, with three of them coming from India.

The Election Commission is eagerly awaiting the results, which are expected to begin early on January 8.

The ruling Awami League, led by Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is on track to secure a fourth consecutive victory. It seems highly probable that this is the case, especially considering the fact that the main opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by former premier Khaleda Zia, 78, is currently under house arrest due to graft charges and has decided to boycott the polls.

During a televised address, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, 76, called on pro-democratic and law-abiding parties to refrain from promoting ideas that may disrupt the country’s constitutional process.

After more than five decades since gaining independence, Bangladesh finds itself at a crucial turning point, with significant developments taking place in both its economy and geopolitical landscape. The country’s growing economic significance, with a $400 billion economy that experienced 7.1% growth in 2022, has captured the attention of major powers. These powers recognize the country’s progress and stability and the importance of forming partnerships with it to further their own strategic objectives in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific region.

Sheikh Hasina

The Bangladesh national elections of January 7 have become a significant platform for various ambitions to unfold. These include India’s focus on maintaining a buffer state, China’s vision of the Belt and Road initiative, the strategic interests of the United States, and Russian infrastructure interests.

Amidst allegations of authoritarianism and the stifling of political opponents, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is vying for a fourth term in office. There were allegations of irregularities during the previous elections in 2014 and 2018.

India-China Relations in Bangladesh

India and China have significant interests in the outcome and credibility of the election process. This is due to their strong economic connections with Bangladesh and their broader rivalry in the region. The way Dhaka handles the expectations of its partnerships with the two Asian giants is crucial and will be closely observed on a global scale.

India’s support during Bangladesh’s war of liberation in 1971 stands in stark contrast to China’s support for Pakistan. Pragmatism plays a significant role in shaping Bangladesh’s current relationships with its neighboring countries, considering its historical background.

In the fiscal year 2021–22, the bilateral trade between India and Bangladesh surpassed $15 billion. India acknowledges the importance of Bangladesh as a crucial eastern buffer and offers significant assistance in terms of ports and power grid access, which are essential for the country’s development. The close historical connections and geographical proximity have led to a mutually beneficial trade relationship.

Bangladesh national election 2024

In contrast, Bangladesh’s bilateral trade with China reached over $25 billion in 2022. Bangladesh has strategically aligned itself with China, benefiting from the transformation of its landscape through various mega projects. Chinese investments in BRI-financed infrastructure projects have exceeded $10 billion.

Government in Dhaka Takes Nuanced Approach

Bangladesh’s approach towards India and China demonstrates a focus on fostering mutually beneficial relationships that align with national interests rather than engaging in zero-sum strategic affairs.

It utilizes socio-economic, trade, and cultural connections with India to foster growth while also maintaining substantial military partnerships with China. Bangladesh ranks as the second-largest importer of Chinese arms. India has also provided Bangladesh with a credit of $500 million for defense imports.

Both Asian giants have made significant investments in Bangladesh, highlighting the important role the country plays in regional dynamics. The agreements in power, transport, and telecom highlight the importance of ensuring Bangladesh’s continued success. There have been some concerns raised about the Chinese debt burden and ecological considerations.

Bangladesh national election 2024

However, Prime Minister Hasina has shown great skill in managing multiple partnerships. Her strategic autonomy doctrine, which prioritizes inclusive partnerships, provides smaller neighbors with a valuable model for strengthening themselves through cooperation and collaboration with major regional powers.

Her approach to global issues, such as the Rohingya refugee crisis, has also enhanced Dhaka’s reputation with the two Asian giants.

The Intersection of Geopolitics and Economics

Bangladesh has strategically utilized the economic and technological strengths of both India and China in order to achieve developed nation status by 2041. It has managed to maintain a balanced relationship with both countries, adapting to the changing dynamics. Port access has been granted to both countries, which has led to modernization in Mongla port under the BRI and Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar Corridor (BCIM). India decided to withdraw from a cooperative enhancement for Pyra port because the public-private partnership was awarded to a Chinese company.

Bangladesh’s draft on the Indo-Pacific outlook highlights the country’s commitment to engaging with regional and global stakeholders to promote human security, connectivity, and the blue economy. It emphasizes the importance of avoiding geopolitical tensions.

Sheikh Hasina is Iron Lady of Asia

Bangladesh currently imports electricity from India, amounting to 1,160 MW. This has facilitated approximately $450 million of Chinese investments in domestic power generation, resulting in a total capacity of 1,845 MW as of 2021. The increasing need for electricity has led to a requirement for more supply, and the energy agreements with both countries support the shared interests in industrialization.

Being a smaller neighbor caught between the interests of regional giants, Bangladesh has managed to balance its own national agency while fostering cooperation with countries that have conflicting interests.

Indian and Chinese Concerns about Jan. 7 Elections

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has chosen not to participate in the elections as it insists on having neutral oversight, a demand that the Awami League (AL) has declined.

The BNP continues to have reservations about the support that India provides to the ruling party. On the other hand, the AL presents the BNP as being against India and expresses worries about potential disruptions in the bilateral relationship due to potential disputes over the credibility of the election results.

India and China, with a significant stake in Bangladesh’s stability, are naturally concerned about the potential political and economic risks following the election. China’s $38 billion BRI initiatives rely on the continuity of the AL regime, and India will need to explore alternative strategies if Prime Minister Hasina were to be removed from power.

Given the high stakes of the upcoming elections in Bangladesh, it is not surprising that both India and China have expressed support for the current administration.

Information Source: Indian Express and Live Mint


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