IRI Survey: What accounts for Sheikh Hasina’s sustained popularity?

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Published on August 23, 2023
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DR. PRANAB KUMAR PANDAY: 

The recent release of a report by the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) – a non-profit organisation funded and supported by the United States federal government – has sparked considerable debates and discussions within Bangladesh’s political sphere. This dynamic discourse comes at a pivotal juncture as the nation steers towards the upcoming parliamentary election, with the opposition vocally advocating for the reinstatement of the caretaker government system. The findings of the report are likely to have significant implications for Bangladesh’s political landscape. With a focus on gauging public opinion, the survey paints a comprehensive picture of the preferences and attitudes of the Bangladeshi population.

One of the most striking revelations of the report is the widespread popularity of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The fact that an overwhelming 70 percent of respondents hold positive views about her leadership indicates a strong endorsement of her policies and governance. This reflects the public’s confidence in her ability to steer the nation forward and address its challenges effectively.

In addition to evaluating sentiments toward the Prime Minister, the report delves into perspectives on the electoral process. Notably, only 44 percent conveyed favorable inclination towards reinstating the caretaker government, implying that a majority of respondents do not outrightly endorse the opposition’s demands regarding the issue. This indirectly signals an increasing faith in the stability and transparency of the incumbent government’s strategies for holding elections.

Furthermore, the survey underscores the population’s enthusiasm for participating in the democratic process. An impressive 92 percent of respondents expressed their intent to exercise their voting rights, highlighting a keen awareness of the significance of civic engagement and the power of the ballot.

The combination of these findings points towards a nation that values both stable leadership and active democratic participation. As Bangladesh looks ahead to its upcoming general election, these insights can guide political parties and policymakers in aligning their strategies with the desires and expectations of the people.

However, it’s also important to recognize that public sentiment can be fluid and subject to change, influenced by various factors including evolving circumstances and policy decisions. As such, while these survey results offer a snapshot of current attitudes, they also highlight the need for continued engagement and responsiveness from the government to maintain the high levels of support observed in the report.

Now, a crucial inquiry arises: What accounts for Sheikh Hasina’s sustained popularity? The considerable upswing in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s popularity, as highlighted by the survey, can be linked to a sequence of diverse accomplishments that have markedly influenced Bangladesh across multiple domains.

One of the pivotal factors behind Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s soaring popularity is her government’s adept management of the COVID-19 crisis. As the pandemic brought about unprecedented challenges globally, her leadership stood out through decisive actions and transparent communication. Swift and effective measures were implemented to curb the spread of the virus, leading to a relatively controlled impact on public health compared to many nations. Moreover, the mass vaccination program, offered free of cost, has saved the people of Bangladesh from catastrophic health consequences. This success not only saved lives but also bolstered public confidence in her administration’s ability to navigate complex crises.

The government’s commitment to improving the lives of its citizens is underscored by the expansion of the social safety net. By extending the coverage of welfare programs, Sheikh Hasina’s government has significantly reduced poverty levels in the country. These initiatives have provided essential support to vulnerable populations, ensuring access to healthcare, education, and basic necessities. Such measures have not only uplifted lives but have also garnered widespread public appreciation for their direct impact on the ground.

Furthermore, the vision of transforming Bangladesh’s infrastructure has been actualized through ambitious mega projects. The construction of the Padma Bridge, a tunnel under the Karnaphuli river, and the introduction of a metro rail in Dhaka are monumental initiatives that reflect the government’s commitment to modernization and improved connectivity. These projects not only promise a more efficient transportation network but also contribute to economic growth and job creation, resonating positively with the populace.

Another crucial query pertains to whether the IRI report will contribute to the Awami League drawing public support as the nation approaches the 12th parliamentary election scheduled for early 2024. The findings of the report could potentially provide the Awami League with a substantial advantage. As voters increasingly prioritize stability, effective governance, and concrete results, the report’s insights into Sheikh Hasina’s growing popularity could translate into higher voter confidence in the Awami League’s ability to steer the nation’s progress. However, it’s important to note that political dynamics can be complex and multifaceted, and electoral outcomes are influenced by a range of factors beyond just popularity figures.

In conclusion, the IRI report underscores the remarkable surge in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s popularity, while also reflecting the people’s confidence in the electoral process. With a substantial majority indicating their intent to participate in the democratic process, Bangladesh appears poised to move forward with a strong sense of civic responsibility and engagement. As the nation progresses, these findings could serve as a foundation for further discussions on governance, policy, and the future trajectory of Bangladesh’s democracy.

 

The writer is a Professor of Public Administration at the University of Rajshahi.