Bangladesh: With Re-Election, Woman PM Sets New Record

Bangladesh's longest-serving PM wins re-election and vows to modernize the country.

Sheikh Hasina Wazed has again made history in Bangladesh. The first prime minister since Bangladeshi independence to serve out an entire term—from 1996 to 2001—she just won a fourth term in January elections, and is the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history.

Hasina, 71, was unfazed even after the United Nations called for an independent probe into poll violence that claimed 17 lives and ballot stuffing. Bangladeshi elections are often marred by violence, accusations of fraud and rejection of results by the losing side.

This time was no different. The Awami League party’s unchallenged leader for over two decades, Hasina led to a lopsided victory—267 seats in the 300-member Parliament. Jatiya Oikya Front, the unity alliance of Bangladesh National Party (BNP), promptly rejected the outcome. China and India promptly recognized her victory, though the US and European Union expressed reservations.

It’s widely acknowledged that Hasina has steered her country on the road to economic development. An independent nation only since 1971, Bangladesh was once categorized by the IMF among the world’s poorest countries, alongside Rwanda, Mali, Somalia, Ethopia and Upper Volta.

That’s no longer the case. Bangladesh’s GDP growth was a robust 7.8% in 2017-18, up from 5% in 2009 when Hasina assumed office as prime minister for the second time. Economic liberalization during Hasina’s latest tenure reduced the percent of the population living in poverty to 24.3% in 2016, from a whopping 71%. Hasina’s position as a cult figure among her supporters was solidified after Bangladesh became the world’s second-largest garment exporter after China.

Hasina has said publicly that her ambition is to rid Bangladesh of its reputation as a backward nation by 2022, with structural transformation, 10% economic growth and a doubling of per capita income (currently $1,800).