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NDI

The National Democratic Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization working to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government.

Bangladesh

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Pictured: Banners for candidates in the Dec. 29, 2009 Bangladesh parliamentary election hang above a street in Dhaka. Photo courtesy of Flickr user stoneßµ∂∂hå.

On Jan. 5, 2014, Bangladesh held its 10th parliamentary elections in accordance with the incumbent Awami League’s (AL) revised constitution, which abolished the non-party caretaker government that had governed the transition of power during the country’s elections since 1996. While the 2008 parliamentary elections proved that electoral institutions and standardized electoral processes could govern a peaceful transition of power in Bangladesh, negotiations during the pre-election period this time between the AL and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leadership failed to produce an agreement to hold inclusive and participatory elections.

With strong public support for a nonpartisan caretaker government to oversee the elections, the 18-party BNP-led opposition alliance committed to boycott the 10th parliamentary elections unless a new caretaker government was established. Despite public opinion polls anticipating a strong electoral showing for the BNP had they participated in the elections, and repeated attempts by the international community to broker an agreement between the two main party coalitions, the opposition remained committed to a destabilization campaign that led to a government crackdown on opposition forces, increased violence and political deadlock. As a result, 154 of 300 parliamentary seats ran uncontested and the AL was assured victory, with its candidates declared victors in 127 of the 154 uncontested seats by default.

With the credibility of the elections in question, the United States declared on Dec. 22 that it would not deploy international observers for the elections and international observer missions from the European Union, the International Republican Institute and the Commonwealth cancelled their international monitoring activities. Rising tensions between the ruling AL government and the BNP-led opposition, and the resulting deterioration in the security situation, also proved to be a complicating factor for Bangladeshi citizen election monitoring organizations. Due to the constricted political space, many of these groups were hesitant to comment openly on the electoral environment, fearing reprisals. Voter turnout on election day was low by Bangladeshi standards, and many of Bangladesh’s citizens have lost confidence in the ability of country’s political process to deliver credible, participatory and democratic elections.

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Election Monitoring

NDI observed parliamentary elections in Bangladesh in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2008, as well as by-elections and local polls. Ahead of the 2014 parliamentary elections, NDI provided Bangladeshi citizen observers with intensive training on the Declaration of Global Principles for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organizations (DoGP) to prepare them to effectively monitor and report on the elections. Domestic observers in Bangladesh play an important role in bolstering the integrity of the electoral process. These local organizations have a long history of monitoring elections, but established groups have not gained full acceptance by the political parties and the Election Commission of Bangladesh (ECB), both of which have often challenged such organizations’ neutrality. The DoGP sets forth the rationale for citizens to monitor and promote the integrity of elections, and defines activities and obligations concerning impartiality, independence, accuracy, transparency, non-discrimination, respect for the rule of law and cooperation with other observers. Adherence to the DoGP can enhance the credibility of citizen observers as independent and impartial monitors of the electoral process.

Immediately following the 2014 parliamentary elections, NDI trained citizen election monitors to observe all phases of the local upazila parishad elections. Throughout the program, NDI integrated the interests of youth, women and religious and ethnic minorities in election observation activities, encouraging their participation as leaders, coordinators and volunteers. When combined, these populations form a majority of voters in Bangladesh, but they are also particularly vulnerable to intimidation and violence during elections. In the post-election period, the Institute is working with civil society organizations to conduct evidence-based analysis of observer data, strengthen their organizational management and communication skills, and develop recommendations to sustain momentum for electoral reform, stability and transparency.

Parliamentary Strengthening

To prepare future members of parliament (MPs) to address key parliamentary issues following the 2008 elections, NDI held a series of issue-based conferences. Political party leaders, former MPs and civil society experts used the private, multiparty forum to discuss food security, parliamentary reform and women's political participation. Recommendations from each conference were compiled in reports and distributed to all participants and the international donor community. Immediately following the 2008 elections, NDI held a three-day parliamentary orientation program for over 200 newly-elected MPs. The program employed a peer-to-peer approach in which senior Bangladeshi MPs and parliamentary experts – as well as international guests from the UK, Germany, India and the US – shared their experiences and best practices. Topics ranged from the role of parliament in a democratic system to the individual responsibilities of MPs, including panels on committee structure, ethics and lawmaking. NDI also held a parallel orientation program for 64 newly-elected women parliamentarians that included sessions on women's advocacy, caucus development and budgeting approaches that contribute to the advancement of gender equality and the fulfillment of women's rights.  

From 2009-2012, the Institute helped opposition parties engage in the parliamentary process by teaching new techniques for interaction and collaboration. NDI hosted roundtable meetings with civil society leaders, the AL and the BNP to discuss challenges and ways to improve cross-party cooperation in a divided parliament. NDI brought together the Parliamentary Committee on Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs – including MPs and staff – to conduct a simulated committee hearing. The simulation, chaired by a former MP from the UK, promoted best practices for parliamentary oversight of the executive branch. NDI also facilitated policy forums, issue briefs and video learning modules for a group of young MPs, helping them to build an archive of parliamentary best-practice reference materials. This core group of reform-minded young MPs paved the way for a new model in cross-party cooperation on issues such as climate change.

Women’s Political Participation

NDI has also worked with women civic and political leaders, helping them to better understand their role as policymakers. In 2008, the Institute helped to establish the Bangladesh Alliance for Women Leadership (BDAWL), a local organization of senior women political and civic leaders whose goal is to promote 33 percent women’s representation in parliament and to help the next generation of women leaders rise to senior positions within their respective fields. With NDI support, BDAWL hosted programs throughout Bangladesh to orient the 120 newly-elected vice chairwomen of the local councils, or upazila parishads. The orientations focused on developing their understanding of the roles and responsibilities of upazila parishad vice-chairs, including constituency outreach and coordination with other levels of government. BDAWL is now fully independent and continues to promote its women’s leadership academies throughout the country, training future women leaders in effective management, presentation and political skills.

Funding

NDI's programs in Bangladesh have been funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Australian Agency for International Development (AUSAID), the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).

Contact Information

For more information about these programs, use our contact form or contact:

Bangladesh
Dhaka: Rishi Datta,Senior Resident Director 
+88 02-988-3998

Washington, D.C. 
Jacqueline Corcoran, Senior Advisor 
202.728.5586

News and Views
01/08/2014 | The New York Times
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11/01/2012 | Associated Press
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02/15/2009
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Published Publication Title Author
03/06/2014 Equal Access: How to Include Persons with Disabilities in Elections and Political Processes
Manual|Handbook
National Democratic Institute, International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES)
10/23/2013 Increasing Women’s Political Participation Through Effective Training Programs: A Guide to Best Practices and Lessons Learned
Training Manual
National Democratic Institute
04/03/2012 Declaration of Global Principles for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organizations and Code of Conduct for Nonpartisan Citizen Election Observers and Monitors
Declaration
10/31/2011 Empowering Women for Stronger Political Parties: A Good Practices Guide to Promote Women's Political Participation (Now available in Burmese)
Manual|Handbook
Julie Ballington
06/09/2010 Women as Agents of Change: Advancing the Role of Women in Politics and Civil Society
Testimony
Ken Wollack
06/01/2009 Final Report on the Bangladesh 2008/2009 Elections
Report
National Democratic Institute
12/31/2008 Bangladesh: Final Statement of the NDI Election Observer Delegation to the Parliamentary Elections
Statement
National Democratic Institute
12/01/2008 NDI Reports: A Review of the Activities of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs
Newsletter
National Democratic Institute
11/19/2008 Statement of the NDI Pre-election Delegation on the 2008 Parliamentary Elections in Bangladesh
Statement
National Democratic Institute
01/15/2007 NDI Election Watch: Bangladesh 2007 Elections
Newsletter
National Democratic Institute
10/17/2006 United States Commission on International Religious Freedom Forum on International Religious Freedom
Speech
Patrick Merloe
09/11/2006 Report of the National Democratic Institute (NDI) Pre-Election Delegation to Bangladesh
Report
National Democratic Institute
12/01/2005 NDI 2005 Annual Report
Report
National Democratic Institute
10/27/2005 Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation and Code of Conduct for International Election Observers
Manual|Handbook
05/24/2005 Testimony before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus By Owen Lippert, Resident Director, Bangladesh National Democratic Instit
Testimony
National Democratic Institute
05/01/2004 Legislative-Executive Communication on Poverty Reduction Strategies, Parliaments and Poverty Series, Toolkit No. 1
Manual|Handbook
National Democratic Institute United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
05/01/2004 Parliamentary-Civic Collaboration for Monitoring Poverty Reduction Initiatives, Parliaments and Poverty Series, Toolkit No. 2
Manual|Handbook
National Democratic Institute United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
05/01/2004 Legislative Public Outreach on Poverty Issues, Parliaments and Poverty Series, Toolkit No. 3
Manual|Handbook
National Democratic Institute United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
01/01/2003 Political Campaign Planning Manual, A Step By Step Guide to Winning Elections
Manual|Handbook
National Democratic Institute, J. Brian O'Day
01/06/2002 Implementing Party Reforms in South Asia: Challenges and Strategies
Report
Randhir B. Jain