The International Crimes Tribunal (ICT), which was created to try criminals during Bangladesh’s 1971 independence war from Pakistan, has sentenced the most eminent leaders of top Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) to death or jail. A number of members from the main opposition party, Bangladesh National Party (BNP), were also sentenced to prison. While these sentences have been welcomed by government supporters and civilian war victims, they have triggered violent protests from JI supporters against government forces and public targets, leaving more than one hundred dead, i.e. a record since 1971. Trade and business have also been disrupted by strikes and roadblocks, and adding to the tense political situation, Zillur Rahman, Bangladesh’s president since 2009 and former Awami League (AL) member, passed away in Singapore. The Constitution stipulates that presidential elections within the Awami League dominated Parliament must be held by mid-June at the latest.

Impact on country risk

While the aim and fairness of such proceedings – pending since 1975- are questionable given their negative impact on national unity and on the opposition, there is a high risk of Bangladesh’s political instability continuing until the December parliamentary elections. JI, which is particularly active in social and financial sectors but politically acting more as an insurgent religious movement, is at risk of disintegrating. It has therefore welcomed the BNP’s decision to strengthen their ties though JI’s political future remains uncertain. The death of President Rahman, who was considered a uniting national force despite his mainly ceremonial role, will not improve the political outlook as his successor is likely to be an AL member, thereby keeping tensions high between the two top parties, tensions which will be exacerbated by further ICT condemnations of JI and BNP top figures. Bangladesh, a moderate Muslim country, has for a long time been politically polarised between secularists and Islamists and is likely to see future protests from opposition parties leading to further clashes on communal and political grounds. Moreover, deteriorating security conditions might affect economic developments and foreign investment plans in Bangladesh. This would hit a resilient economy that has recorded over 6% average growth in the last ten years, supported by strong workers’ remittances and the textile sector, and offers competitive labour costs.

Analyst: Raphaël Cecchi, r.cecchi@credendogroup.com