Bangladesh's elections will impact regional security and connectivity

The upcoming election will also define Bangladesh’s relations with great powers, namely the USA, India, and China

Imran Amir Dec 18, 2023
Bangladesh's elections (Representational Photo)

Three major states in South Asia are currently poll-bound. Sequentially, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India are heading towards their next general elections. Other South Asian countries are also either approaching their election or like Maldives and Sri Lanka recently completed them. While elections are generally perceived as domestic political affairs, they often have implications for regional politics and security

South Asian states and societies share a close affinity owing to cultural and religious connections. As Hinduism and Islam are two predominant religions in South Asia, often these religions become important tools in the practice of electoral democracy. For instance, religious identity provides right-wing parties with a support base and often has safety concerns for minorities.

Many internal political events in a country can have a ripple effect on other neighboring countries. Owing to strong cultural and religious similarities, South Asian countries share several regional security complexes that are important aspects of their national securityRegional Security Complex is a theory espoused by Barry Buzan and Ole Waever, which identifies a regional security complex as a group of states whose primary national security concerns are so closely intertwined that they cannot be addressed independently. The theory views security interdependence as a critical factor in the creation of regionally based clusters.

In the case of South Asia, preserving communal harmony, protecting minority groups, curbing transnational terrorism, and keeping stability in bilateral trade are some of the regional security complexes intertwined with other neighbors. As Bangladesh is heading toward its most anticipated election next month, it is worth exploring this often-neglected issue - the impact of Bangladesh’s upcoming general election on South Asian politics.

Pre-election implications

Broadly, the implications can be identified in two stages: the pre-election stage and the post-election stage. During the pre-election stage that spans through election day, vote-bank politics increases security risks for minority groups. Locally, minority groups are traditionally perceived as a ‘vote bank’ for a specific political party, and hence, right-wing parties and their allies try to intimidate them. The intimidation most often escalates to violence. The Hindu population in rural Bangladesh becomes insecure during this pre-election phase.

Money laundering is another concern that arises in the pre-election phase. Candidates and lobby groups spend large amounts of money, exceeding the legal limit in most cases, to win the election. As a large amount of money is spent mainly through cash, money laundering occurs to and from Bangladesh. The illegal transaction comes to meet the election expenses, while many smuggle wealth to foreign countries to protect their illegal wealth, fearing the uncertain future after the election

Before the last election in 2018, The Policy Research Institute (PRI) study found that money laundering increased in Bangladesh and ultimately surged the dollar price. Money laundering can take place for terror financing that may go undetected amid such high transactions both in legal and illegal mediums. Illegal transactions also take place to lure voters, a notorious malpractice prevailing in South Asian election culture.

Post-election implications

Often after the election, minority repression through violent attacks and arson takes place in Bangladesh locally as a retaliation for their perceived bloc voting. Immediately after the 2001 election result, Bangladesh witnessed months-long attacks against the minority population in Bangladesh perpetrated by the cadres of BNP and Jamaat, the victors of that election who launched retaliatory attacks on Awami League voters. Such minority repressions can invoke Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) and illegal migration to neighboring countries.

As Hindu and Muslim are two majority religions in the Indian subcontinent, Hindu minority repression in Bangladesh can have a ripple effect on India’s minority Muslims.

Besides minority repression, poll-related violence can destabilize the country. The months-long arson attacks and the use of improvised explosives in the aftermath of the 2014 election are prime examples of how political violence can affect the general people. During that period in Bangladesh, at least 500 people died, and more than 3000 were injured.

Poll-related instability translating into economic disruption can also hamper important trade relations and production processes that adversely impact the integrated global supply chain.

Geopolitical implications

The upcoming election will also define Bangladesh’s relations with great powers, namely the USA, India, and China. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the antithesis of the Awami League (AL), is traditionally a pro-China party whose politics is largely based on anti-Indian rhetoric. On the other hand, AL is perceived as a pro-India party. However, owing to various geopolitical and geostrategic factors, both China and India seem to favor the current AL government. The BNP seems to be heavily dependent upon US foreign policy in its poll politics. The party has chosen not to participate in the election like in 2014.

As a result, the upcoming election result will significantly impact the country’s big-power relations. The US has already announced a visa restriction policy for those involved in election fraud. The election will also decide the future of existing arrangements of regional connectivity and security.

To win elections, election engineering and ballot irregularities at the local level are pretty common in South Asia, particularly in Bangladesh. It would be the main challenge for the Bangladesh Election Commission and the government to ensure a free and fair election without any questionable events.

(The author is a freelance research assistant in Bangladesh. Views are personal. He can be contacted at

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