Dipanjan Roy Chaudhury:
Bangladesh, a nation of 170 million people, has been making remarkable strides in both its development and democratic principles in recent years, which would make it an Asian Tiger from what was once described as a basket case.
Under the adept and visionary leadership of the Awami League (AL), in power since 2009, Bangladesh has transformed itself into a stable, prosperous, and progressive nation, winning immense praise and admiration globally.
The democratic fabric of Bangladesh stands as one of its greatest assets. Bangladesh has maintained a stable and peaceful democracy since 2009, with the practice of regular elections and peaceful transfers of power. This thriving democracy has enabled Bangladesh to enhance its governance structures and significantly improve its human rights situation, essential components for sustainable development.
According to the World Bank, Bangladesh has notably elevated its ranking in the Worldwide Governance Indicators. These indicators encompass critical dimensions of governance, including voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption. Furthermore, Bangladesh has demonstrated substantial progress in reducing violence and repression, particularly against religious minorities, women, and journalists.
The country has also ratified most of the international human rights treaties and conventions, establishing various institutions and mechanisms to safeguard and promote human rights. The impact of Bangladesh's democracy extends beyond its borders, influencing a pragmatic and balanced foreign policy approach. This has bolstered the nation's regional and global standing.
Bangladesh has also shown active engagement in various multilateral forums, including the United Nations, the Commonwealth, the Non-Aligned Movement, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for MultiSectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
Notably, Bangladesh has taken a leadership role in addressing global challenges, from climate change and terrorism to migration and humanitarian crises. The democracy dividend has proven to be a catalyst for Bangladesh's economic growth, propelling it to be one of the fastest-growing economies globally, averaging about 6% per year since 2010, as reported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Simultaneously, the country has touched remarkable social development indicators, such as reducing poverty from 31.5% in 2010 to 20.5% in 2020, improving health and education outcomes like increasing life expectancy from 69.2 years in 2010 to 72.6 years in 2020, and narrowing the gender gap in primary education from 4.4% in 2010 to 0.2% in 2020.
Bangladesh has also diversified its economy, moving beyond dependence on agriculture and garments, to developing new sectors such as pharmaceuticals, information technology, shipbuilding, and leather. Investing in human capital is fundamental for long-term development and productivity, and Bangladesh recognizes this. Human capital embodies the knowledge, skills, competencies, and attributes critical for personal, social, and economic well-being.
Bangladesh has been dedicating efforts and resources to invest in human capital, increasing public spending on education and health. World Bank data shows Bangladesh's public expenditure on education as a percentage of GDP grew from 2.1% in 2010 to 2.6% in 2020. Similarly, public expenditure on health as a percentage of GDP increased from 0.9% in 2010 to 1.2% in 2020. These investments have translated into tangible improvements in literacy rates, school enrollment rates, life expectancy rates, infant mortality rates, maternal mortality rates, immunization rates, and nutrition status.
Bangladesh's democracy dividend is primarily a result of the BAL's leadership and vision, which have propelled Bangladesh into a model of development and democracy in South Asia. The AL has delivered on its promises of good governance, human rights, a pragmatic foreign policy, economic growth, human capital investment, and social development. The AL has encountered various challenges and limitations on its democratic journey, overcoming them through further reforms and improvements.
Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by its leader in exile has emerged as a negative force in Bangladesh's democracy and development. The BNP has consistently failed to offer any credible alternative or constructive opposition to the AL's policies and programs. The BNP, which held power in Bangladesh from 1991 to 1996 and from 2001 to 2006, carries a legacy marred by allegations of corruption, mismanagement, nepotism, and human rights violations. The party has also been associated with violent and extremist groups, such as Jamaat-e-Islami, which opposed Bangladesh's independence and committed atrocities during the Liberation War.
The BNP's involvement in several acts of violence and sabotage against the AL government, including hartals (general strikes), arson attacks, bomb blasts, and assassinations, further tarnishes its image. The clash between BNP supporters and police in Dhaka on December 8, 2022, resulting in casualties, or the protests in August 2023, are testimony to the BNP's propensity for violence and disruption.
Such actions indicate the BNP's lack of commitment to democracy and development, aiming instead to create chaos and instability in Bangladesh, potentially impeding its progress and prosperity. This approach also threatens to tarnish Bangladesh's international reputation and cooperation with other countries. But the diligent and visionary leadership of the AL, combined with active citizen participation, has propelled the nation's trajectory forward. Bangladesh's steadfast commitment to democracy will be pivotal in maintaining its trajectory of growth and development, ensuring it remains a shining example in South Asia and beyond.
Writer: Diplomatic Editor at The Economic Times.
Courtesy: Daily Asian Age