Bangladesh and the 2024 elections: From 'basket case' to rising star

Briefing 21-12-2023

Strategically located in the heart of the Indo-Pacific region, and almost completely surrounded by India, Bangladesh has the eighth biggest population in the world. In the 50 years following its breakaway from Pakistan, Bangladesh has made spectacular economic and social progress. Once one of the world's poorest countries, with the US administration calling it a 'basket case' when it became independent, Bangladesh is now due to graduate from least-developed country (LDC) status in 2026. The government aims to end absolute poverty and graduate to higher middle-income status by 2031, and to eradicate poverty and become a developed nation by 2041. While agriculture is the main source of employment, the country has become the world's second producer of garments, which account for 80 % of the country's exports, mostly directed to the EU and the US. The country receives a high level of remittances from its diaspora. The largest contributor of troops to United Nations (UN) peacekeeping missions, Bangladesh has been able to maintain a strategically balanced approach among world powers. The country has become a symbol of humanitarianism in the framework of the Rohingya Crisis. The EU and Bangladesh cooperate mainly in areas such as economic development, human rights, good governance and the environment, and have launched negotiations on a new partnership and cooperation agreement to replace the 2001 cooperation agreement. The state of human rights and democracy in Bangladesh has however attracted the attention of the international community. The European Parliament has repeatedly expressed concern regarding the country's human rights situation. The mass arrests of opposition leaders and activists ahead of the elections to the unicameral parliament scheduled for 7 January 2024 appear to point to democratic backsliding. The elections have been boycotted by the opposition, and seem likely to deliver a fourth consecutive mandate to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.