Why Bangladesh is an Autocracy, Despite a Booming Economy

The country has gotten away with unfair elections since 2008. Its turbulent political past might be to blame.

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Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gestures after casting her vote at a polling station in Dhaka on January 7, 2024 (AFP via Getty Images)

Yash Roy


January 8, 2024


10 min

Sheikh Hasina won reelection as Bangladesh’s prime minister on January 7, 2024, cementing her already-ironclad grip on the nation of 170 million people. Her victory comes after years of cracking down on key opposition leaders and dissent.

She won her first term in 1996, but her most recent contiguous time in power started in 2008. Since then, Bangladesh’s economy has prospered, with GDP per capita nearly quadrupling and exceeding India’s. But as the nation’s economy soared, Hasina also created “a cult of personality,” according to Iftekhar Zaman, the executive director of Transparency International in Bangladesh. And, many of the benefits of a growing economy are not trickling down to the nation’s working-class population, said Chaumtoli Huq, a labor law professor at the City University of New York.

When Hasina can be proud of her economic record, why not trust the people to reelect her? A look at Bangladesh’s turbulent political past might give some answers.

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