Women queue up to vote during the parliamentary elections in Bangladesh on December 29, 2008. Those were the last elections in Bangladesh that were widely viewed as legitimate. (Commonwealth Secretariat)


… With about six months to go before the next parliamentary election, these are three key issues to watch.

1. How will the election be administered? 

There is a political stalemate over Bangladesh’s election administration. The AL asserts that elections can be free and fair under the oversight of the Bangladesh Election Commission, which the opposition argues is partisan. Consequently, the BNP says it will boycott all elections until the government reinstates Bangladesh’s caretaker government (CTG) system, scrapped by the AL in 2011.

2. How strong is the opposition?

The public popularity and internal cohesion of the BNP are not clear.

For a country of 170 million people, there is remarkably little credible public opinion data in Bangladesh. Most observers’ assessment of political strength is driven by impressions of grassroots enthusiasm and crowd size at rallies, which are highly unreliable measures. By this metric, the opposition appears to be growing in popularity. Its rallies before the COVID-19 pandemic often inspired sparse attendance, but now draw thousands — at times tens of thousands. While some in the party are concerned that its rallies peaked too early, the BNP looks more popular today than it has in years.

3. What is the impact of American pressure?

The United States has centered democracy promotion in its Bangladesh policy. In December 2021, Washington sanctioned Bangladesh’s elite security force the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) over alleged extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations. The Biden administration denied Bangladesh an invitation to its 2021 and 2023 global democracy summits. And in May 2023, the United States announced it would refuse visas to any Bangladeshi implicated in “undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.” …