Amidst a boycott by the Opposition, Bangladesh voted on Sunday. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who heads the Awami League, is expected to retain office. This is good news for Delhi since India-Bangladesh ties have done well under her: Trade has boomed, there is better road and rail connectivity between the two countries, and the two nations agree on the threat terrorism poses to South Asia. A politically stable Bangladesh, with continuity in policies, augurs well for the region, especially since their common neighbour, Myanmar is in ferment with the civil war threatening to trigger a refugee crisis as well as make it easy for militias to access weapons through a porous international border.
All this points to the interconnectedness of polities in the subcontinent, with election outcomes – and multiple national elections are due in the coming months – resonating beyond borders. The Maldives presidential results, which came in late September last year, have muddled waters in the Indian Ocean region: The new president, Mohamed Muizzu, is perceived to be hostile to Delhi and eager to engage Beijing. Pakistan is set to hold polls in early February while presidential elections in Sri Lanka are slated for later this year. India will have a new government in May.
Except in India, democracy has tenuous roots in most of the countries, many of which have a history of military coups and authoritarian regimes. Dhaka, for instance, has faced severe censure from western democracies for its heavy-handed approach to Opposition parties. The electoral democracies in South Asia may be flawed – weak institutions, lack of gender parity, imbalance among different arms of the state – but a key takeaway from them is that they have a relatively better record on delivering economic growth, welfare, security, and even protecting liberal values and human rights. That makes it worthwhile to invest in elected governments.
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