IRI FGDs: AL and Sheikh Hasina More Popular Than BNP and Khaleda Zia

A series of focus group discussions (FGDs) conducted by the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) over the summer of 2017 confirms that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasinaand her party Bangladesh Awami League remain more popular than their rivals Khaleda Zia and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

According to the report on the FGDs, which was made public on their website www.iri.org, most participants expressed a positive view of the Awami League and its leader, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, strongly associating her and the party with the country’s independence movement and current development. According to IRI, the FGDs suggest that the Awami League’s incumbent government is in a strong political position entering the 2018 election cycle because of its development achievements and the popularity of its leader.

On this aspect, IRI analyses the findings thus: “Bangladeshis appear to have a strong and deeply personal dedication to the Awami League and its leader, Sheikh Hasina. Two key factors seem to drive this: targeted local development and the history of Sheikh Hasina and her party. This combination of emotive and policy-based support appears to provide the Awami League with a resilient base of support…”

Participants praised Sheikh Hasina for her actions on women’s rights, better education, leadership, and being personally educated and patriotic. Comments on Sheikh Hasina from FGD participants included the following, among others: “When I remember her (Sheikh Hasina), I remember the development of the country” (Man from Khulna); “I like her as she stands beside the poor” (Woman from Mymensingh); “Sheikh Hasina means Bangabandhu and Bangabandhu means liberation war” (Urban woman in Mymensingh).

On the other hand, most participants viewed the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its leader Khaleda Zia and Jamaat-e-Islami negatively. In comparison, the Jatiya Party, which is the official opposition in parliament, was the only opposition party to receive more positive than negative responses. The FGDs also suggest that the political opposition, particularly the BNP and its ally Jamaat face “strong headwinds” entering the 2018 election cycle because of their association with “violence, intransigence and religious extremism”.

On this aspect, IRI analyses the findings thus: “Opposition political parties in Bangladesh, excluding Jatiya (Party), are mostly associated with negative characteristics. The violence during the 2014 election appears to have disproportionately tarred the BNP…Further challenging the BNP, Bangladeshis have a mixed view of the party’s leader, Khaleda Zia, who received more criticism than Sheikh Hasina. In addition, Jamaat, the BNP’s political ally, is strongly associated with the rise in violent Islamic extremism and regressive attitudes toward women. These negative views could impact upcoming electoral outcomes. The BNP’s opposition coalition, which includes Jamaat, is the most plausible alternative to the Awami League, yet the Bangladeshi public’s negative view of the coalition’s key parties could undermine its ability to exploit the Awami League’s vulnerabilities…”

Some of the comments from the FGD participants on BNP and Khaleda Zia included a highly negative perception about Tarique Rahman, Khaleda Zia’s son, convicted of multiple crimes, and currently acting chief of BNP: “I personally believe that BNP belongs to Khaleda Zia, so there is no democracy. The party will be pressured by what Tareq Zia [Khaleda Zia’s son] will order…” (Man from urban Dhaka); “The son of [Sheikh] Hasina is highly educated, but the son of Khaleda [Tareq Zia] is incendiary” (Man from rural Mymensingh). Comments on BNP also centered on violence. “I feel fear when I hear BNP” (Woman from rural Khulna).

Comments on Jamaat were mostly negative, such as: “Jammat-e-Islami is not Islamic. Their works are not Islamic. Islam is peaceful, but they aren’t…” (Man from urban Dhaka); “Now our country is going properly. Women are contributing in every sector. But if Jammat comes to power, they will create a hindrance for women…” (Woman from urban Mymensingh). Other critical comments on Jamaat centered on the party being a Pakistani party, criminal, communal, and did not respect the liberation of Bangladesh or Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
Economic security and corruption were cited by most as their pressing concerns, although interestingly many did not blame the government for their economic situation. Most participants also felt that there is a lot of work to be done in terms of creating a climate a freedom of speech where everyone can express their political opinions freely without fear of repercussions.

Participants expressed their desire to see further development of Bangladesh’s democracy and democratic institutions. Most intend to vote in the next election and nearly all participants supported more cooperation between the different political parties. However, the FGDs also showed that support for the caretaker government conducting elections has been dwindling steadily among the people in Bangladesh. Participants expressed mixed opinions on their personal security; however, most participants felt the government was performing well on security issues.

IRI conducted the FGDs from August 9-20, 2017 to complement its last national survey, which was fielded in March and April 2017. This poll showed a majority of Bangladeshis positively view the direction of the country, its economy, and level of security. However, the economy and law and order were also listed as the top two problems facing the country. The FGDs were designed to probe for more detail on Bangladeshis’ beliefs and attitudes regarding economics, politics, and security.

To know more about the FGDs and IRI, visit: http://www.iri.org/country/bangladesh

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