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BANGLADESH


  
  



Key Economic Data 
 
  2004 2003 2002 Ranking(2004)
GDP
Millions of US $ 56,844 51,900 45,500 54
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 440 400 390 175
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Bangladesh


Update No: 068 - (26/10/13)

Summary: October proved to be a volatile month for Bangladeshi politics, even though it made for some positive diplomatic ventures. To start with, Bangladesh's two main parties hurtled towards a showdown that could delay or even derail elections due by January 2014. As the Awami League (AL) government headed by PM Sheikh Hasina refused to step down in order to let a caretaker government run the country till the elections take place, the key opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has called for a massive anti-government rally. The political standoff not only promises a spree of bloodshed but has also impacted business severely.

In the politically charged atmosphere, former Grameen Bank Managing Director Muhammad Yunus, severely criticised the government's move to bring the microfinance institution under Bangladesh Bank supervision, and has warned of thwarting the attempt. He also expressed doubts about the forthcoming national elections and whether they will be peaceful.

Thirdly, Bangladesh's garment factory owners are planning an increase in minimum wage by about 50 to 80 per cent and will ask retailers to pay more to defray the cost, as the Hasina government tries to end a wave of strikes that hit nearly a fifth of workshops last month. However, if the demands failed to satisfy the labour unions then the strikes may continue.

On the diplomatic front, Foreign Affairs minister of Bangladesh, Dipu Moni, undertook an official bilateral visit to push forward the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor.

Finally, US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena, and Bangladesh’s home secretary CQK Mustaq Ahmed signed an initiative that aims to enhance joint efforts in tackling terrorism. The US embassy in Dhaka said counter-terrorism cooperation with Bangladesh is an ‘important element’ of the bilateral partnership and engagement.

Political deadlock as elections come close
Bangladesh's two main parties hurtled towards a showdown that could delay or even derail elections due by January 2014. As the Awami League (AL) government headed by PM Sheikh Hasina refused to step down in order to let a caretaker government run the country till the elections take place, the key opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has called for massive anti-government rally. The BNP says that, unless the government relinquishes power, its supporters will whip up nationwide strikes that are likely to be bloody. It is also threatening to boycott the elections. ‘There will be a total deadlock,’ said Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the BNP's acting secretary-general. ‘When the government does not listen to our demands, what is the alternative?’ The deadlock raises the spectre of aborted polls in 2007, when a League boycott and clashes between rival party supporters led a military-backed government to take over for two years. Even if the polls go ahead, the opposition might reject the results, which could spark more strikes and force a second election within months, as happened in 1996.

In an attempt to defuse the crisis PM Sheikh Hasina offered to form an all-party government to see through the elections. She publicly asked Khaleda Zia, chief of the BNP, to shun the path of violence and come to the parliament for a discussion on their demand. ‘We are still open to a dialogue.’ According to the Section-1 of Article 72 of the constitution, the election will be held as per the prime minister’s written instruction to the president and the election commission will announce the schedule for the national election. While BNP’s response is expected to be negative, its office bearers have indicated the possibility of resolving the impasse by a negotiated settlement. Nonetheless, BNP has appealed for its supporters to rally against the government and asked them to come ‘prepared with arms’. With political rallies resembling a copy-cat tactic, the Awami League held a competing rally on the same day. According to Human Rights Watch (HRW) about 150 people have already lost their lives in firing by the security forces on protestors, more than 2,000 have been injured this year. The police banned all gatherings in the capital in the run-up to the BNP rally.

The political standoff not only promises a spree of bloodshed but has also impacted business severely. The mounting tension is a fresh threat to Bangladesh's US$22 billion garment export industry, the economic lifeblood of this poor country of 160 million, which has already been rocked by a string of deadly factory accidents over the past year. Bangladesh has a history of ferocious political violence and military intervention. The ruling Awami League (AL) in 2011 scrapped a ‘caretaker government’ system whereby neutral leaders take over three months before elections and oversee polls and the AL is now refusing to step down, as would have ordinarily happened. Many of the Western retailers that source apparel from Bangladesh – world’s second largest clothing exporter after China – have put orders on hold. They may venture into other markets if the political scene gets violent. Bangladesh's loss could benefit rival exporters, Vietnam and Cambodia, even though they are more costly. Garment orders placed at an annual trade fair in Dhaka this month fell by 5 per cent from last October, before a factory blaze and the collapse of Rana Plaza, a building that housed garment workshops, which together killed more than 1,200 people.

Yunus warns govt against move on GB, worried about politics
In the politically charged atmosphere, former Grameen Bank Managing Director Muhammad Yunus, severely criticised the government's move to bring the microfinance institution under the Bangladesh Bank supervision and has warned of thwarting the attempt. ‘We'll break the hands that try to take hold of it (Grameen Bank),’ the Nobel Peace Prize winner told a gathering of women in Chittagong recently. He asked the women whether they would accept the government's move to change the Grameen Bank ordinance into an Act. With popular and international support by his side, Yunus has been vociferous in his criticism of the Hasina government. Yunus, who had been the bank's founder MD since its inception, was removed in March 2011 on the ground that he had crossed the age limit to remain in the post. He had moved the High Court challenging the decision, but in vain.

He also expressed doubts about the forthcoming national elections and whether they will be peaceful. Urging everyone to keep the doors to violence shut, he iterated that the country is going through a bad period. ‘We want a peaceful election participated in by all political parties,’ he said. He claimed that everyone was ‘worried’ over what could happen. As per the Constitution, the election will be held some time between October 25 and January 24, 2014 under the supervision of the incumbent government and the Parliament will not stand dissolved. ’Will we be able to step out of home? Why is there so much of uncertainty in an independent country? Won’t we be able to cast ballots?’ he asked.

The Nobel laureate, whose attempts to float a political party had ended in smoke, issued his first statement on the country’s political situation in August. ‘A free and fair election is not possible without a caretaker government. The national polls should be held with the participation of all political parties,’ he had said backing up the BNP-led opposition alliance's demand of a non-party caretaker body to supervise the polls.The caretaker provision was scrapped through the 15th Constitutional Amendment.

Garment wages to go up but strikes may not end
Bangladesh's garment factory owners are planning an increase in minimum wage by about 50 to 80 per cent and will ask retailers to pay more to defray the cost, as the Hasina government tries to end a wave of strikes that hit nearly a fifth of workshops last month. Bangladesh hopes to announce a new minimum wage in November. The factories owned have had to bow down to tremendous international and domestic pressure after a string of fatal factory accidents that put the poor working conditions and small pay into the global spotlight. The minimum monthly wage for garment workers is 3,000 taka (approx. US$39), around half of what those in rival Asian exporters Vietnam and Cambodia earn and just over a quarter of the rate in top exporter China, according to International Labour Organisation data from August. This US$ 39 worth of wages were reached after a hike in 2010. While the factory owners have offered 3,600 taka (approx. US$46) per month, the workers demand 8,000 taka (approx. US$ 103) per month. As the negotiations carry forward, many believe that the official figure would settle down somewhere between 4,500 to 5,500 taka (approx. US$58 – US$71) per month. Most Bangladeshi workers take home at least US$54 a month because of overtime pay, according to the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). The price hike from retailers would range somewhere between 5 to 15 per cent. ‘These workers' rights are being discussed all over the world now and the government is nervous,’ said Amirul Haque Amin, the head of the National Garment Workers Federation, an umbrella group representing 37 unions.

The wage negotiations must somehow strike a balance between Western fashion giants, politically-connected factory owners and protesting staff. The government did not respond to strikes over wages last year, but since then accidents including the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory complex near Dhaka, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers, have put the authorities on the back foot. Rock bottom wages and trade deals with Western countries have propelled Bangladesh's garments sector to a US$22 billion industry accounting for four-fifths of the poor country's exports, with retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc, JC Penney Co Inc and H&M Hennes & Mauritz, buying clothes from its factories. The Bangladeshi government is revising the minimum wage as part of efforts to address the industry's ‘image problem’ and hopes to announce the new rate in November. However, many workers say they will go on strike again if their demands for a pay hike are not met, which would be a blow for the ruling Hasina government, ahead of an election due by January 2014. While some staff would accept an offer below the 8,000 taka their unions say that anything under 6,000 is likely to spark widespread protests. Garment factory workers need around 6,450 taka (approx. US$ 83) a month just for their basic living costs, according to a survey by the Centre for Policy Dialogue, a Dhaka think-tank, published in September, with many relying on small loans.

Dipu Moni visits China, talks BCIM
The Foreign Affairs minister of Bangladesh, Dipu Moni, undertook an official bilateral visit to China with the political imbroglio getting worse at home. Occurring on invitation by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, she held bilateral meetings with her Chinese counterpart and other senior leaders of the country. The main aim behind the meeting was to push forward the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor. Moni’s visit coincided with Indian PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to China. Wang said China cherishes the traditional friendship with Bangladesh and attaches importance to China-Bangladesh ties. China regards Bangladesh as a natural partner and important for China's opening up westward. In addition to seeking aid and investment from India, Bangladesh in the recent years has engaged Beijing actively. Dhaka seeks to maintain high-level visits, deepen pragmatic cooperation and push forward the construction of the BCIM Economic Corridor with China. It also hopes to promote people-to-people exchanges, and cooperate and coordinate in both international and regional issues.

US to help tackle terrorism
US Ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena, and Bangladesh’s Home Secretary CQK Mustaq Ahmed signed an initiative that aims to enhance joint efforts in tackling terrorism. The US embassy in Dhaka said counter-terrorism cooperation with Bangladesh is an ‘important element’ of the bilateral partnership and engagement. They reiterated that terrorism and translational crime are threats to both countries and the world.

The two countries agreed to promote exchanges on modernisation of techniques to combat terrorism effectively and to develop and strengthen partnerships and increase exchanges between law enforcement agencies of both countries. They also agreed to promote cooperation between their respective investigators and prosecutors to prosecute terrorism and other major crimes effectively and to promote cooperation between their forensic science laboratories and training institutions.
 

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