RISK LEVEL: MODERATE
RISK OUTLOOK: DETERIORATING
Elections were held in December 2018, as a result of which the ruling Awami League won a third consecutive term, collecting 288 of the 300 available seats; while the opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) collected only 7 seats. The election was marred by violent clashes, resulting in 17 deaths, and claims of voter intimidation/vote rigging during the election. While the Bangladesh Election Commission claimed it would investigate the allegations, at this stage the election is highly unlikely to be overturned. International pressure to do so is subdued by China and India, who are unlikely to raise questions regarding internal political arrangements within Bangladesh owing to close ties and proactive diplomatic and trade relations. Bangladesh is a member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which strives to maintain good relations with all nations, essentially by being the enemy of none, and is active in promoting regional and sub-regional cooperation through their membership of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). Such intentions are often tested, however, and tensions between Bangladesh and Pakistan over electoral interference has endured for over a year.
Foreign investment from China has led to an increased ceding of preference regarding manufacturing, power and infrastructure sectors. Cordial foreign relations mean that the possibility of conflict being declared upon or being declared by Bangladesh is low. The Awami League has good relations with both India and Myanmar, while a recent pledge from China of $30,000,000,000 toward its infrastructure has increased ties between the two nations. This, in turn, has led to a number of regional infrastructure projects; such as the Padma Bridge project, aimed at increasing operational efficiency and capacity.
During August 2018, large student protests on road safety in Dhaka were met with a violent crackdown from government forces. During the protests a US Envoy was attacked by armed men resulting in the damage of two security vehicles, leading to a U.S embassy probe into the incident. Partly in response to the student road safety protests, the government recently approved a new Road Transport Act while also attending the UN Road Safety Week for the first time, and sights have been set on reducing road deaths by fifty percent by 2020. Road safety and increased protests are likely to be an enduring issue as the government seeks to rectify endemic issues.
While foreign relations are close and the economy grew by 7.9% during fiscal year (FY) 2017/2018’ with an average for the decade of 6% per FY; Bangladesh remains a poor country with 26.5% of the populace suffering from hunger last year, meaning the potential for unrest remains large. During January 2019 garment factory workers carried out industrial strikes in their thousands, blockading roads and taking part in violent clashes with police over poor pay with minimum wages currently standing at $95 a month. The unrest forced 52 garment factories to close and ultimately led to the sacking of 5000 workers by factory owners. Tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets were reportedly used by police to disperse crowds, with one worker killed. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters’ Associations hold huge political influence and has warned of increased factory closures and protest, and this is likely to be an ongoing issue the government will seek to manage. Government ministers have argued that the Awami League’s record of raising the minimum wage for garment workers from $19 to $95 between 2008 – 2019 must not be ignored; however, they do accept that the current level remains below regional averages.