Thursday, December 13, 2018

Elections 2018: Challenging the orthodox view

The orthodox view amongst most independent political commentators in Bangladesh is that if there was a free and fair election, Awami League would lose.

The commentators don't put this down to any great support for the opposition, but to a sense that there is a significant anti-incumbency factor, that people are fed up with the wide-spread corruption under the current government, the serious human rights violations including disappearances, extra judicial killings and arbitrary detention, the constant attacks on the opposition parties and the constriction on freedom of expression.

The same commentators also argue that the Awami League will never allow this to happen - that the government will use its control of the political administration, the police and the election commission to ensure that they "win" the final results, manipulating the vote so that the opposition parties win a certain number of seats, but no more.

Recent international standard polls, however, do not support the first part of this equation. Commentators may well be right in their criticisms of the Awami League government (as set out above), but these appear not to determine people's overall judgement of the government, and which party they will support in any election.

The same commentators who think that AL is more unpopular in the country than the BNP are often the same people unwilling to believe in the credibility of opinion polls, however independent or competently undertaken they might be. An argument, these commentators often given is that Bangladeshis will not tell people how they are truly thinking, particularly when there is a repressive political environment where someone's support for the opposition can have serious negative repercussions, including arrest. 

They also argue that the Awami League's repressive activities against independent journalism and the political opposition is highly suggestive of a government fearful of losing the election.

These commentators are of course right that there are real concerns about constrictions of freedom of speech and that many people will be scared to speak openly about their support for opposition parties - something identified by these very same polls and focus groups.

However, at the same time, it is not clear that this reality would prevent the vast majority of people from speaking honestly in providing anonymous responses to a poll. It is notable that before the 2014 election, these same polling organisations found that the BNP was more popular than the AL.

As to why the government is so repressive in a situation where a free and fair election would likely provide them a victory - that is a more difficult question to answer, and I will come back to in a separate post.

Below are some of the key findings from the September 2018 poll undertaken by Democracy International (based around a nationwide face to face survey of 2200 Bangladeshis in the first two weeks of September involving a sample "drawn using random selection techniques; it includes all seven divisions, 39 districts and is nationally representative.") Some details of the 
May 2018 poll undertaken by International Republican Institute are also referred to.) 
Support for the Awami League

I have already written about what the IRI poll undertaken in May had to say about declining support for both the Awami League and the BNP, with the Awami League having 25% support compared to the BNP's 10% with 62% of people being undecided/refusing to provide a view.

Democracy International: Support for the political parties
The more recent Democracy International poll however gives the Awami League a higher degree of support: 53% compared to the BNP's 15% - a 38% difference - with a much smaller number of undecideds.

Even if, for arguments sake, one were to add the 18% who refused to say and the 15% who were undecided to the BNP's column this would only increase its total to 48%.

Democracy International: Support for the parties since 2012.
The Democracy International poll also shows that AL's support increased by 13% from the 40% who had supported the party in the May 2015 poll. In the same three year period the poll found that BNP's support had decreased from 30% to 15% 

In what direction is the country headed?
Democracy International: Is the country heading in the
right or wrong direction

IRI May 2018 poll: Right or Wrong direction?
This support for the AL is also reflected in responses to the question in the about whether the country is going in the right/ wrong direction - 70% (in the right direction) to 17% (in the wrong direction).

The May 2018 poll carried out by IRI also found a significant majority of people considering that the country is headed in the right rather than the wrong direction - 62% to 22%

Democracy International, Sept 2018: An improved economy
Democracy International, Sept 2018: People who report being better off?
The main reason given in both polls why people believe the country is heading in the right direction is their view that the economy is improving, which is also reflected in that most people state that they are better off economically now than they were five years ago. When asked, "Are you (personally) better off than you were five years ago, are you not better off or about the same?", 69% said that they felt better-off and 13% said that they were worse-off.

More Confidence in AL than BNP

The Democracy International poll also shows that people have much more confidence in the Awami League's ability to deal with the issues important to people. For example, 72% of people think that the AL is better able to address improvements than infrastructure whilst only 12% thought that the BNP were better suited.

AL Leaders more popular than BNP leaders

The Democracy International poll also found that AL leaders, in particular Sheikh Hasina are well liked people, and more liked than BNP leaders. However, BNP leaders are also quite popular.

85% of people have confidence in Sheikh Hasina, the AL leader, and 86% say that they like her

61% of people say that they like Khaleda Zia

63% of people like Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the son of Sheikh Hasina

55% like Obaidul Quader, the AL General Secretary

45% like Tareq Rahman, the son of the opposition leader, Khaleda Zia

40% like Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, the BNP General Secretary

Views on Khaleda Zia jailing
The Democracy International May 2018 poll asked questions about the Khaleda Zia conviction and here jailing

It found that equal numbers of people supported (24%) and opposed (23%) the conviction and jailing of Khaleda Zia with most people saying that they did not know or refused to answer (53%)

Please email me here with any new information or comments.

Other 2018 Elections posts

- Dec 7:   Forced out, but service resumes
- Dec 7:   Disappearances before 2014 election
- Dec 9:   Exclusive: Results of Confidential Poll revealed
- Dec 11: Bangladesh's "Closing Democratic Space"

- Dec 13: Fear and Awami League leaders
- Dec 13: Challenging the Orthodox View
- Dec 15: Full Pre-election polls for download
- Dec 21: Why the Government is fixing the election
- Dec 22: Sajeeb Joy's poll half-truths
- Dec 22: Facebook exposes government's fake news
- Dec 23: A disgrace of a website
- Dec 25: Awami League's new crisis of legitimacy

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