IN ASIA

Weekly Insights and Analysis

In Bangladesh: Public Perception of the State of Emergency

April 4, 2007

By Kim McQuay

Since the declaration of a state of emergency and the cancellation of the national parliamentary election in January 2007, the affairs of state in Bangladesh have been administered by a non-party Caretaker Government (CG) that operates under the auspices of the armed forces. A recent public perception survey found that there is a broad consensus amongst the Bangladeshi people ” from local political leaders to ordinary citizens — that the state of emergency was necessary in view of the political crisis and lawlessness prevailing in the country at the time.

The National Public Perception Study Report, conducted by the 34-member Election Working Group (EWG), was conducted from February 3 to 7, 2007 in all 64 districts of the country. It reflects citizen perspectives not on just the Caretaker Government, but also on public security, electoral and broader reforms, and the timing of the next parliamentary election.

Key findings include:

• A substantial majority of citizens consider the appointment of a new Caretaker Government (CG) and the postponement of the parliamentary election to have been essential for the country at the time.  About 70 percent of ordinary citizens, civil society members, and local government officials expressed high or extremely high confidence in the CG, versus only 56 percent of political leaders.

• As a result of the decline in criminal activity, people are beginning to register a sense of heightened personal security. About three-quarters of civil society members, local government officials, and citizens felt their personal security had improved, but this feeling was less pronounced among political leaders.

• Among issues of concern in the present environment, discussants cited uncertainty regarding the timing of the parliamentary election and the orders of the CG to forcefully evacuate landless slum dwellers, small and informal traders, and hawkers that operate on public land.

• A majority of respondents consider a number of broader governance reforms as essential to the conduct of a free, fair, and credible election, including effective action against corrupt persons, barring corrupt persons from participating in future elections, reactivating and reorganizing the Anti-Corruption Commission, and ensuring a good law and order situation.

• Almost everyone interviewed considered that the timing of the election should be conditional on the completion of key reforms.  More than 96 percent of respondents believe that prospects exist to achieve genuine electoral reforms.  At the same time, discussants cautioned that if the state of emergency continues for an indefinite period, then people could lose trust in the Caretaker Government.

• Opinions varied as to when the rescheduled parliamentary elections should ideally be held.  Approximately 15 to 17 percent of respondents in the various groups felt that the elections should be held in six to nine months, while 28 percent of citizens were content with the election being scheduled no less than one year from now. But, many respondents indicated that if the election date extends beyond one year there is a possibility that the country could face a resumption of problems.

The findings are based on 1,437 in-person interviews of Bangladeshi men and women.  The discussants included local political leaders, civil society members, local government officials, and ordinary citizens”including small farmers, daily wage laborers, small businesspersons and traders, roadside vendors, rickshaw/van pullers, and housewives. The study is the first in a series of planned public perception surveys to be undertaken by the EWG.

A second perception survey report comparing citizen views in March 2007 with those expressed in February 2007 will be released shortly.

Kim McQuay is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative to Bangladesh.

Related locations: Bangladesh

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