Ishita Akhtar Eva, a 21-year-old first-time voter, expressed her aspiration for her country to mirror the success of other thriving nations, envisioning the development of a “Smart Bangladesh.” Currently studying at Shanto Mariam University in Dhaka, Ishita shared her first-time voting experience, noting, “This marks my inaugural vote, I am confident that I’ve cast a vote for a more promising Bangladesh.”
In my initial experience covering the General Elections in Bangladesh, it became evident that Sheikh Hasina would return to power, given the boycott by the main opposition parties, namely Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami. Regardless of whom do you ask, Bangladeshis expressed contentment with the poll results. However, it was evident to many that the journey ahead for the Sheikh Hasina-led Awami League Government would not be an easy one.
Notably, there are concurrent challenges that the Hasina Government must grapple with, including achieving political stability, the resolution of economic issues, and the facilitation of infrastructure development. Especially pertinent for the youth are concerns related to employment opportunities, access to quality education, and the need for active involvement in decision-making processes. These critical areas require focused attention from Sheikh Hasina’s Government to effectively address the aspirations and concerns of the population especially when the South Asian country is facing heat from the United States (US).
There are rumours in Dhaka’s political circles that the US will impose sanctions on Bangladesh’s garment exports and disrupt the country’s growth story.
Regarding the anticipated interference from the US, an official from the Foreign Ministry, speaking on the condition of anonymity, shared insights with Organiser, “The upcoming government must equip its foreign ministry to effectively handle potential challenges from the Biden administration. There is a prevailing speculation that Washington will continue pressuring the Bangladeshi Government, potentially implementing punitive measures like restrictions on ready-made garment exports, visa restrictions and imposing sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act on key government figures. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s initial years in her consecutive fourth term, until the US election on November 5, 2024, are anticipated to be particularly challenging, with polls indicating a potential defeat for Joe Biden.”
In Dhaka, Hasina backers were saying that under her rule Bangladesh has fast-tracked its growth story – which is true to a large extent. Even despite continuous attacks on Hindus and other religious minorities, Hasina should also be credited for creating a Bangladesh where minorities feel safer than they did during the BNP-Jamaat rule.
A Hindu voter Shushantika Mondal at Ispahani Girls’ School and College booth told Organiser, “For Hindus, Hasina is the only hope. Now she also promised to form a National Minority Commission. I agree with the fact that Hindus are facing persecution under her government too but we know what will happen if BNP or Jammat come to power. We are hoping that in the coming years, Bangladesh will be a better place for minorities.”
Combating Corruption, Terrorism & Extremism
Sheikh Hasina’s newly formed Government faces a myriad of challenges, including combating corruption and terrorism, religious extremism, maintaining law and order, ensuring essential goods remain affordable for the public, effectively countering disinformation campaigns from opposition parties like the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Jamaat-e-Islami, attracting foreign investments, and addressing the decline in foreign currency reserves.
Zia Chowdhury, a journalist working with Dhaka-based daily newspaper The Business Standard opined, “As the ruling Awami League has been in power for last 15 years and they have secured another five years to be in power, eliminating corruption and establishing rule of law for everyone is youth’s main demand to the government. In recent years’ inflation has gone up and the economy is in a dire situation as per the experts’ speculation. Reviving the economy would be another demand to lower inflation. Though living conditions can get better, commodities prices should be back to normal.”
“Transforming Bangladesh into a ‘Smart’ country should go beyond mere rhetoric and manifest in tangible outcomes.. Services should be upgraded and delivered through digital platforms and should be accountable too,” Zia commented over Hasina’s vision of ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041.
Senior Journalist and Editor of Blitz, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, told Organiser, “The most formidable task, in my opinion, lies in tackling corruption. Over the past 15 years, numerous key figures from the ruling party have been implicated in widespread corruption and the laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars, gaining international attention.”
“Additionally, the Government must confront terrorism and religious extremism by distancing itself from Islamist forces in Bangladesh, such as Hefazat-e-Islam. Achieving these goals demands sincere commitment from the Government, considering the inherent difficulty of these tasks,” he said.
“Failure to address these critical issues could lead to severe consequences, potentially isolating Bangladesh from the international community. It is imperative for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government to grasp the gravity of these challenges for the nation’s future,” Salah Uddin further added.
Hasina’s Victory To Endorse Regional Integration
After securing a record fifth term as Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina described India as “great friend”, saying the two neighbours had resolved many problems bilaterally.
“We consider India as our next-door neighbour. We had many problems but we resolved them bilaterally. So, I really appreciate that we have a wonderful relationship with India,” Sheikh Hasina said.
When queried about Sheikh Hasina’s return and its implications for Bharat, South Asia expert and Director India Foundation Alok Bansal stated, “The return of Sheikh Hasina is anticipated to reinforce the continuous development efforts in Bangladesh observed over the past 15 years. During this period, Bangladesh has become a symbol of progress and moderation. The admirable Human Development Index (HDI) is indicative of these accomplishments, and there is confidence that under Hasina’s leadership, the positive momentum in human development will be sustained.”
“Sheikh Hasina’s electoral triumph holds significant implications for India’s security and regional cooperation. From India’s standpoint, her victory reinforces the assurance that anti-India elements won’t find a safe haven in Bangladesh. Jihadi terrorists and radical Islamists will not get a territory to thrive and spread their destructive ideology, contributing to regional stability. Moreover, Sheikh Hasina’s win fosters greater integration between Bharat and Bangladesh, aligning with Bharat’s ‘Act East’ policy. This collaboration not only promotes mutual prosperity but also facilitates smoother transit for Indian goods and people through Bangladesh to North-East India and further to South-East Asia. In turn, Bangladeshi goods and projects gain access to North-East India and South-East Asia through collaborative initiatives. In essence, Sheikh Hasina’s success signifies a positive development for India, endorsing regional integration and shared prosperity,” Bansal added.
Covering elections in a politically divided and internationally observed environment was a challenging task. In the coming days, continuing with the cordial relations with Bharat and addressing the concerns related to the minorities in Bangladesh and illegal migration across the borders will be another set of challenges that will scrutinise the skills and acumen of the Hasina Government in the coming days.