General elections in Bangladesh are always a much-awaited and complicated affair. If the last one was in 2014, this time around, the elections are slated for December 30, 2018, a month that carries a lot of business promise for the country’s apparel industry. After all this is the time of the year when orders from the West are at an all-time high due to the approaching festive season there.
If the industry’s sentiments are something to go by, the last general elections is better forgotten due to the economic havoc that it wreaked. As per industry insiders, its impact on business was far more telling even than the Rana Plaza collapse, an illegally built factory in which more than 1,100 workers were killed. The political unrest and violence, especially in the crucial months of December and January led to disastrous trade results. The industry had to bear the brunt of it, with numerous buyers calling off orders from Bangladesh, anticipating uncertain shipments. And a major beneficiary of the same had been the next-door neighbour India, which took most of the orders while the rest went to Pakistan and China.
As per Reuters news report, more than 100 people were killed in clashes ahead of the election then, with the unrest accompanied by roadblocks pushing up transport costs by 10 to 20 per cent while according to an economic update of Asian Development Bank, Bangladesh garment industry suffered a loss of at least US $ 3.8 million in December, 2014, due to order cancellations.
So what about the upcoming elections this December?
“As per my understanding, the upcoming general elections would be more or less peaceful. As the elections have to be held within three months’ of its declaration, political parties would be busy in campaigning, mobilising votes and, preparing the grounds to put up a good show,” maintained Khondaker Golam Moazzem, Research Director of Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) speaking to Apparel Resources earlier.
However, Khondaker’s prediction seems little off the track going by the current political scenario in the country. As per media reports, on November 14, opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party activists clashed with police in their first street battle with law-enforcement agencies since Bangladesh started countdown to the election set for Dec 30. On the third day of the party’s nomination form sale at the party’s headquarters in Naya Paltan, the BNP supporters reportedly engaged in violent clashes with them which ensued in BNP supporters setting on fire two police cars and one armoured vehicle.
“The BNP leaders and activists were haphazardly spread out in front of the party office. The police requested them to maintain order. But they clashed with the police without any provocation,” reportedly maintained Station chief of Paltan Police Mahmud Hossain.
However, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir reportedly blamed the ruling Government alleging that it is out to spoil the election atmosphere while putting the onus on the law enforcement agencies for the attack.
In his statement, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader reportedly alleged that the BNP’s attack on police was designed to subvert the planned election. “They plotted the attack. The BNP has been hatching a conspiracy to foil the election. As part of that conspiracy, they attacked the police,” reportedly maintained Quader.
With the pre-poll political skirmishes already on the Dhaka streets, apprehensions of many apparel exporters, interacting with Apparel Resources, expressed concern as to the downside of the upcoming general elections and its adverse implications on businesses, seems justified enough.