The results of the 2018 general elections are hardly surprising
The Bangladesh parliamentary elections held on December 30, 2018 provided very little by way of surprises to political analysts who had studied the data from polls conducted by numerous credible pollsters before the elections.
The conventional wisdom, as stated by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) on December 4, 2018, was that Awami League (AL) was going to win the majority of the parliamentary seats. A more detailed survey conducted by USAID, UKaid, and Democracy International (DI) in early September 2018 indicated the extent by which AL was going to win.
The DI survey was telling in that it showed the support for the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) heading for a nosedive and hitting an all time low of 17% by September 2018. We now know the graph followed the trend and went down further by December 30, 2018.
This data defied the conventional assumption that BNP had about 30% support of the electorate. The impact for this cataclysmic drop can be better understood if one analyzes the previous elections results.
In 1991, Awami League won 30.1% of the votes, but managed only 88 seats. On the other hand, BNP, with only a marginally more 30.8% votes bagged 140 seats. The Jatiya Party (JP) had 11.9% of the votes and 35 seats. The 1991 election showed that even a small advantage in the percentage of votes could result in a disproportionately higher number of seats in our first past the post system. Jamaat had 12.1% of the votes but only 18 seats, indicating that their votes were concentrated on a few seats.
In the elections held in June 1996, AL’s total percentage of votes went up by 7% to 37.45% which allowed it to gain 146 seats. BNP’s votes went up by about 3% to 33.6% and it obtained 116 seats to form a strong opposition. JP with 16.4% of the votes got 32 seats while Jamaat with 8.6% votes got only three seats. Again, this election showed that a single digit percentage swing in votes could decide who forms the government.
The 2001 elections showed a surprising trend where AL’s total vote again increased by 5% to 41.40% but it only got 62 seats. This was because of the alliance formed between BNP and Jamaat. BNP with a lower percentage of the votes at 40.02% still managed to win 193 seats.
Jamaat, in alliance with BNP, won 17 seats with only 4.28% votes. JP won 14 seats with 7.22% of the votes.
This result further showed that the seats BNP won in 2001 were won by small margins, while AL had strongholds where they won by large margins.
Having been defeated by the BNP-Jamaat alliance in 2001, the AL formed its own Grand Alliance in 2008. This resulted in AL’s total votes increasing by another 8% to reach 49% which allowed it to win 230 seats, while its major alliance partner, JP, won 27 seats with 7% votes. The BNP’s total vote fell by 7% to 33.2% votes which resulted in it obtaining only 30 seats, while its ally, Jamaat, with 4.6% of the votes got only two seats.
Comparing the figures from 2001 and 2008, both of which were considered free and fair elections by the international community, will show just how a 7% drop in BNP support resulted in its seats dropping from 193 in 2001 to 30 in 2008.
All credible polls during the last quarter of 2018 were showing that BNP support in 2018 had dropped to around 15%. This was a staggering drop for a party which had usually enjoyed about 30% of the votes.
In reality, by December 30, 2018, the BNP-led alliance had given up any hope of winning the elections and stopped campaigning. The result was AL winning 257 seats, JP 22 seats, and other AL allies nine seats.
BNP got only five seats, and Gono Forum, which had not ever won any seats, now for the first time in its history, got as many as two seats. Gono Forum is clearly the biggest winner in the 2018 elections.
The results of the 2018 general elections are thus hardly surprising. In 2008, the BNP-Jamaat alliance had gotten 32 seats. During the decade from 2008 to 2018, the BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia was convicted of a number of corruption charges with other corruption cases pending.
BNP’s de facto leader, Tarique Rahman, who granted nominations to BNP alliance candidates through Skype interviews, became a fugitive after convictions for murder, assassination attempts, and money laundering, with evidence provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the United States.
The party had also opposed the trial of war criminals who committed egregious crimes during the Liberation War, and to add insult to injury, gave nominations to 25 members of the de-registered Jamaat-e-Islami.
During the same decade from 2008 to 2018, AL oversaw an economy where, as the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) reported, unemployment dropped from approximately 8% in 2008 to 4.4% in 2018, and the World Bank recognized Bangladesh as one of “the fastest growing economies in the developing world” which achieved remarkable progress in reducing poverty and creating opportunities for its citizens.
Thus, a decade on, the 2018 elections saw a swing of 25 seats in favour of the AL alliance with BNP-Jamaat’s share being reduced to seven seats. The youth of Bangladesh clearly voted for development in 2018. In these circumstances, and in the face of AL’s decade of visible economic development, a total of seven seats is quite a good result for the BNP alliance.
Moin Ghani is a lawyer specializing in international arbitration and multi-jurisdictional law enforcement.