At 76 years old, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has earned a prominent place in global politics. In a Time cover story, she was hailed as a political phenomenon who has played a pivotal role in guiding Bangladesh’s growth from a rustic jute producer to the Asia-Pacific’s fastest-expanding economy over the past decade.
A Legacy of Political Success
Sheikh Hasina has been a prominent figure in Bangladeshi politics, serving as the country’s prime minister since 2009. Prior to this, she held the same office from 1996 to 2001. Her remarkable journey in politics has seen her win more elections than even iconic leaders like Margaret Thatcher or Indira Gandhi. With multiple terms in office and a reputation for resilience, Hasina remains dedicated to leading her country.
Hasina’s Political Triumphs
I.Suppression of Resurgent Islamists and Military Meddling
One of Hasina’s notable achievements is her success in subduing resurgent Islamists and curtailing military interference in Bangladeshi politics. Her firm stance on extremism and her commitment to safeguarding democracy have earned her accolades from supporters.
Hasina won the last two elections with 84 percent and 82 percent of the vote, respectively, a testament to her popularity among the Bangladeshi electorate.
Challenges to Democracy
Under Hasina’s leadership and her Awami League party, Bangladesh has faced criticism for taking an authoritarian turn. The last two elections were condemned by international bodies for significant irregularities, including allegations of stuffed ballot boxes and phantom voters.
Khaleda Zia, a two-time former Prime Minister and leader of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), is currently under house arrest on dubious corruption charges. Furthermore, BNP workers face an overwhelming number of legal cases, while independent journalists and civil society members complain of harassment.
Detractors argue that the upcoming elections in January are effectively a coronation for Hasina and that she is increasingly resembling a dictator. The ruling party’s control over state machinery, law enforcement agencies, and the judiciary raises questions about the state of democracy and human rights in the country.
Despite the controversies surrounding her leadership, Hasina’s economic achievements have been significant:
Under her governance, Bangladesh has transitioned from struggling to feed its population to becoming a food exporter. The GDP has seen remarkable growth, rising from $71 billion in 2006 to $460 billion in 2022, making it South Asia’s second-largest economy after India.
Bangladesh has made substantial improvements in social indicators, with 98 percent of girls receiving primary education. The nation has also ventured into high-tech manufacturing, attracting international firms like Samsung to shift their supply chains from China.
III.Room for Improvement
While acknowledging the economic success, critics emphasize the need for progress in areas such as democracy, human rights, and free speech. Achieving a balance between economic growth and democratic values remains a key challenge.
In the face of criticism and political challenges, Hasina remains steadfast. She understands that a fractured opposition means failure is not an option. Her commitment to the well-being of her people and the development of Bangladesh remains unwavering. As she once stated, “It is not that easy to overthrow me through a democratic system. The only option is just to eliminate me. And I am ready to die for my people.”