Bangladesh polls: Sheikh Hasina’s likely win for a fourth time will have regional implications

For India, Hasina and her tenure represent stability

Sheikh Hasina polling Sheikh Hasina, PM of Bangladesh and Chairperson of Bangladesh Awami League puts ballot paper inside the ballot box after casting her vote at the Dhaka City College center during the 12th general election in Dhaka | Reuters

The sun is shining and the skies are clear in Dhaka as Bangladesh gets ready to vote. The results of these elections are a given even before the polls opened. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is all set to make history in what is likely to be her fourth term. At stake for Hasina—a cakewalk with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party boycotting the polls—is not a win, but a ‘win’ that will be seen as a win—to the West.

There is a lot at stake. The BNP has called for a 48-hour nationwide general strike, which will end on Monday morning. The Jamaat, which is an alliance with the BNP, is organizing processions to urge voters to stay away. The BNP has urged voters to stay away from the elections of the “fascist’’ government. In the lead-up to the elections, over 8,000 BNP leaders have been arrested.

One of the big credibility tests will be the voting percentage. In the past, the polls have been marked with violence. And the fear looms large this time around. The new agency Reuters has reported a passenger train was set ablaze in Dhaka, Bangladesh, killing four. And, according to reports, the fire is among 14 arson incidents in Bangladesh. In the first few hours of polling, according to media reports, the numbers have been slow. Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal, has been quoted in DailyStar on being asked to comment on voter turnout: "I don't know about voter turnout. My job is to arrange voting but won't comment on voter turnout right now."

A total number of 119.6 million registered voters will get inked in more than 42,000 polling stations across the country. Polling stations will be open till 5pm local time. 

But beyond Bangladesh—and the ramifications of a largely unopposed election for domestic politics—there will be implications on the region as well. It is no secret that America is less than impressed with Hasina’s track record. In September 2023, the United States imposed visa restrictions on Bangladeshi officials found culpable in “undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh". Bangladesh was not called for President Joe Biden’s Summit for Democracy. (Even Pakistan got an invite). And the Bangladesh garment manufacturers—literally the golden goose in terms of exports for Bangladesh fear that sanctions may be imposed post elections. 

For India, Hasina and her tenure represent stability. Hasina has been able to keep the North-East safe and has clamped down on radicalization. New Delhi has emerged as a big investor in Hasina’s development plans. From infrastructure as well as becoming a test case for India’s ability to find new ways of partnerships in the region. Whether it is with Rooppur Power Plant being built with Russian help or bringing in Japan to help partner the development dream. 

“Delhi’s engagement of Dhaka is a good example of India’s democratic realism: don’t let the ideal come in the way of real (same in early 2014, when India’s pragmatic position prevailed over the US line not to recognize the result),’’ posted Constantino Xavier, fellow CSEP, on his post on X. For the South Block with tensions in the region rising because of China, especially as they sour relations with Maldives, Dhaka is an important partner. And Hasina will keep the engagement on track.

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