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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, ongoing negotiations between the AL and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) leadership during the pre-election period this time 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 opposition alliance committed to boycott the 10th parliamentary election 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 observers for the elections. International observer missions from the European Union, the International Republican Institute and the Commonwealth similarly 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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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 Bangladesh Election Commission (BEC), both of which have often challenged such organizations’ neutrality.  Adherence to the Declaration of Global Principles for Nonpartisan Election Observation and Monitoring by Citizen Organizations can enhance their credibility as independent, impartial monitors of the electoral process.  The declaration 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.  

Ahead of 2013-2014 parliamentary elections, NDI provided intensive training on the declaration to Bangladeshi citizen observers throughout the country to prepare them to effectively deploy, monitor and report on the elections. Throughout the program, NDI integrated the interests of often marginalized groups such as youth, women, and religious and ethnic minorities, encouraging their participation as leaders, coordinators and volunteers in election observation activities. 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 during local elections, strengthen their organizational management and communication skills, and develop and track recommendations to sustain momentum for electoral reform, stability and transparency.

Past Programs

With grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), 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 convened the members and staff of the Parliamentary Committee on Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs to conduct a simulated committee hearing — incorporating rules of committee procedures — which had never been done before.  Participating MPs developed policy forums, briefs and video learning modules captured on a website archive of best-practice parliamentary reference materials. Leading together on issues such as climate change, this core group of reform-minded members of MPs is paving the way for a new model in cross-party cooperation.

With a separate NED grant, NDI has worked with women civic and political leaders, helping them to better understand their role as policymakers. The Institute has worked with a select group of women MPs to create a multiparty women's parliamentary caucus to help ensure that gender concerns are represented in policy development with the Bangladesh Alliance for Women Leadership (BDAWL).  Through BDAWL, NDI helped in establishing an alliance of senior women political and civic leaders to help the next generation of women leaders rise to senior positions within their respective fields.

International Election Monitoring

NDI deployed international observers to monitor the 2008 parliamentary elections, as well as monitor post-election developments, including the 2009 upazila parishad, or local government polls. NDI consulted regularly with the Election Commission in Dhaka and at the district level during the pre-election, election and post-election periods, providing guidance and suggestions for the improvement of election administration. With NDI assistance, the Election Commission re-drafted the electoral law and domestic/international observer guidelines, and monitored their implementation.

Parliamentary Strengthening

NDI hosted a parliamentary orientation program Feb. 22-25, 2009, that let senior MPs, experts and international guests share experiences and best practices regarding parliamentary processes. 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, which were well attended by new and senior members.

NDI also held a three-day orientation for the 64 newly-elected women parliamentarians on June 6–8, 2009. The agenda included an overview of parliamentary structures, functions and procedures, as well as MP responsibilities, women's advocacy, caucus development and ensuring appropriate distribution of resource for women’s programming.

Political Party Strengthening

NDI held a series of three issue conferences at which political party leaders, former MPs and civil society experts used the private, multiparty setting to discuss issues, such as food security, parliamentary reform and women's political participation. Recommendations from each conference were compiled in final reports and distributed to all participants and the international donor community.

NDI hosted a program to orient the 120 newly-elected vice-chairwomen of the local councils, or upazila parishads. The orientations promoted understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the upazila parishad vice-chairwomen, and addressed constituency outreach and coordination with other levels of government as well as the importance of public speaking.

NDI also hosted a political party training with former British MP Michael Meadowcroft, on party finance, internal party organization and party management to enhance compliance with the EC's intra-party reform requirements.

Funding

NDI's programs in Bangladesh have been funded by the 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
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Published Publication Title Author
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
05/24/2005 Testimony before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus By Owen Lippert, Resident Director, Bangladesh National Democratic Instit
Testimony
National Democratic Institute
01/06/2002 Implementing Party Reforms in South Asia: Challenges and Strategies
Report
Randhir B. Jain
01/01/2002 Election Day Manual for Polling Agents, Monitoring Elections in Bangladesh
Manual|Handbook
National Democratic Institute
10/01/2001 The 2001 Bangladesh Parliamentary Elections
Report
National Democratic Institute
08/04/2001 Statement of the National Democratic Institute/The Carter Center Pre-Election Delegation to Bangladesh's 2001 Parliamentary El
Statement
National Democratic Institute The Carter Center
06/20/1996 Second NDI Preliminary Statement, June 1996 Parliamentary Elections in Bangladesh, June 20, 1996
Statement
National Democratic Institute
06/14/1996 Preliminary Statement of the NDI Observer Delegation to the June 12, 1996 Parliamentary Election in Bangladesh, June 14,1996
Statement
National Democratic Institute
03/07/1995 National Training Seminar for Domestic Election Monitors
Report
National Democratic Institute
02/27/1991 Bangladesh: Post-Election Report on the February 27, 1991, Parliamentary Elections
Report
National Democratic Institute
03/11/1990 Bangladesh: Report of the Election Assessment Mission, March 11-19, 1990
Report
National Democratic Institute