The World Today for August 03, 2023

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BANGLADESH

The foreign minister of Bangladesh recently called ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France, and 10 other Western countries together in Dhaka to complain about their condemnation of an attack on a political candidate running against the country’s ruling Awami League (AL) party’s candidate.

However, it wasn’t the first time Western officials have raised concerns about the state of democracy in Bangladesh under the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, reported Al Jazeera. Hasina and the AL have dominated the South Asian nation’s politics since 2009.

Their complaints comport with United Nations officials who investigated political curbs on free speech and participation in the electoral system and found that disappearances and extrajudicial killings of human rights activists and others had become common government practice.

These issues have become more pressing in the wake of mass street protests this month against Hasina’s administration, the latest having been on Saturday and which turned violent, reported Reuters. The demonstrations resulted in the deaths of two opposition activists and hundreds of injuries, wrote Deutsche Welle.

The protesters, calling for Hasina to resign, also said they didn’t trust her to oversee parliamentary elections in January 2024 and want a neutral caretaker government to oversee the vote. Officials with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party said police had arrested more than 500 of their members, added Agence France-Presse. Their leader Khaleda Zia has been detained since 2018 on graft charges.

The civil unrest is occurring as impoverished Bangladesh’s economy is growing weaker.

Once held as a “byword for poverty, famine, and natural disasters,” and previously seen as n economic basket case, Bangladesh made great strides socio-economically since its independence from Pakistan in 1971 after a devastating war, the Economist explained. Its growth rate in the decade before the Covid pandemic was only slightly lower than China’s and the country was expected to exit its designation of Least Developed Country by 2026. It was regarded as a development star.

Now, the world’s eighth most populous country of 170 million is being tested because of an economic crisis caused in part by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, wrote NPR. Its garment industry, the second largest in the world, and remittances from Bangladeshis abroad are both faltering.

As Reuters explained, rating agencies recently shared their negative views of the country’s credit rating due to its dependence on foreign oil. The country already needed to secure a $4.7 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund to cover food and fuel costs this year.

Hasani has been working with officials in the United Arab Emirates to secure investments in new energy generation and capacity to address the energy crisis, Arab News wrote. But, even if the Arab tycoons from the Gulf state open their wallets, those investments won’t solve any problems immediately.

One stumbling block to investment and loans is corruption, which exists at every level of officialdom in the country, and which also promotes capital flight and has diverted funds. Hasina has said she is trying to tackle it, but as some noted, “the state is rotting from the head.”

The daughter of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the country’s independence hero and former leader, who tried to make the country a one-party state before being assassinated in 1975, Hasina has succeeded where he failed, mainly by making sure people are beholden to her party to get an education, a job or pretty much anything else.

Given that concentration of power, Hasina isn’t likely to go anywhere soon voluntarily.

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