Bangladesh swing

Bangladesh’s first elections since emergency rule was imposed just under two years ago1 have resulted in the second consecutive swing away from the winner of the preceding election.

The Awami League led by Sheikh Hasina, who has been the country’s premier before, has won big, with 258 of the 300 seats. The other main alliance has won 38; this bloc includes the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, whose leader is also a former premier, Khaleda Zia.

That is quite a sweep, but while aggregate votes results are not yet available, I would caution against assuming this was a big mandate in terms of votes. To see why, one must look back to the last election, in December, 2001. At that election, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party won almost as big as the Awami League did this week: 198 seats (also out of 300 total). Yet the party had won only 42.7% of votes, against 40.1% for the Awami League.

In turn, the 2001 election also marked an alternation in power between these parties. The Awami League had won the June, 1996, elections, though not as decisively–in fact, just short of a majority.2

Bangladesh has a strictly parliamentary system (with a mostly ceremonial president, elected by each new parliament to be head of state).3 Other than during these past two years of emergency military rule, it has been democratic since 1991.

Bangladesh uses FPTP, which is what can permit a small swing in votes to produce such a large swing in seats. However, such uniform swings as the country saw in 2001 and 2008 are relatively unusual in developing democracies with large assemblies. Given the deep polarization between these two parties and their family dynasties, an electoral system that is less responsive to small vote shifts would seem to be called for.

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1. Click the country name in the “Planted in” line and scroll down for more. (I was surprised to see that this is my seventh Bangladesh planting!)

2. According to the Statesman’s Yearbook (138th edition, 2002), in 1996 the Awami League won 146 seats to 116 for the BNP; national votes totals do not seem to be available. The Awami Party formed a coalition with the Jatiya Party (32 seats), but that the coalition broke up in March, 1998. Wikipedia reverses the seat results for 2001, saying the Awami League had 110, but it agrees with the Statesman’s Yearbook that Awami and Jatiya formed a coalition government (which would have been a minority government if Wikipedia has the seat totals right). Adam Carr lists partial results (the votes totals of the winner and runner-up only) for the 1996 election, and the interested reader is invited to count up the total number of districts won by each party and report to us all in the comments.

3. Even in some cross-national lists that I have seen in some political science literature, the country is often mis-coded as either presidential or semi-presidential. The Statesman’s Yearbook says that the country had an “executive presidential system” prior to a referendum in September, 1991. However, even if the presidency at the time was popularly elected (and I do not know), this was clearly before the transition to democracy.

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