The International Republican Institute (IRI) met with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on June 6, 2009 to discuss findings from IRI’s first post-election survey and their implications for the Awami League-led government elected in late December 2008. The 2008 election brought to an end a two-year long State of Emergency when a military-backed, non-elected “caretaker” government ruled Bangladesh.
IRI’s first survey since the December elections indicates that Haisna’s government receives high marks for its handling of the essential food commodity prices but that the efficacy of the anti-corruption campaign is possibly declining. IRI’s Resident Country Director Jeff Vanness and Resident Program Officer Gabrielle Jönsson highlighted for Prime Minister Hasina the recent rise in concern over education, law and order, and electricity.
Prime Minister Hasina took particular interest in IRI’s survey’s questions probing public support of the Awami League’s vision for creating a “Digital Bangladesh” before the country’s fiftieth anniversary of independence in 2021. IRI informed the Prime Minister that the Awami League’s plan to introduce computer education in the schools and create more IT sector jobs was popular, but that voters were reticent to support a diversion of public funds away from well-established priorities such as disaster relief and food subsides.
According to the April 17-22 survey, conducted by Nielsen Bangladesh under IRI’s oversight, corruption and price inflation remain the two top concerns. The ruling Awami League chose these as the first two priority issues in their campaign platform based on previous IRI surveys, according to one current Cabinet minister.
IRI’s survey, conducted four months after the parliamentary elections, confirms the official high voter turnout figures reported by the Bangladesh Election Commission and reveals high levels of satisfaction by voters with both the process and the outcome of the elections – even among voters for the Four Party Alliance which won a minority of the contested seats and now constitute the opposition to Hasina’s government.
Despite Bangladesh’s reputation for intense politicization, IRI’s survey reveals a large constituency for bi-partisan cooperation. Not only do more than four out of five Bangladeshis consider it important to for the opposition to actively participate in parliamentary debates and committee proceedings but the most common questions Bangladeshis wish to ask their leaders is “Will you two work together for the improvement of the country?”
IRI also shared the results of the survey with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, other political parties in Bangladesh. Throughout 2008, IRI shared its public opinion research with Bangladesh’s four largest political parties to prepare them to campaign on issues of concern to voters once the ban on political activity was lifted.