asia-3Dhaka, August 25, 2016 — The Asia Foundation released a survey in March 2016 on Bangladesh’s Democracy: According to its People. For many years, The Asia Foundation’s surveys have gathered the opinions of Bangladeshi women and men on issues of paramount importance to their country’s social, economic, and political development. This survey, carried out in October and November 2015, captures the diverse range of attitudes towards democracy and its necessary institutions, and compares them with a similar survey carried out in 2006 in Bangladesh, as well as more recent surveys carried out in other Asian countries.

The findings reflected in this report highlight the dynamic nature of Bangladesh’s democracy, and the differences in responses recorded across the eight divisions highlight the diversity of experiences in a country where homogeneity is often assumed. The target population for this survey was Bangladeshi citizens aged 18 and over. The sample of 3,200 was prepared using 2011 census data to ensure it was representative of both urban and rural areas and across the eight divisions of the country. The survey has a margin of area of +/- 3%, with a confidence level of 95%.

Key Findings of the survey include:

The National Mood: Bangladeshis are divided on the direction of their country. At the national level 45% believe Bangladesh is headed in the right direction, and 56% believe their local community is headed in the right direction. Inflation was cited by 43% as the biggest concern at the national level, and combined with other issues, economic concerns were the largest concern for 55%. At the local level the biggest problems for two-thirds of Bangladeshis were related to infrastructure.

Democratic Values: Compared to other countries in the region, political tolerance is low in Bangladesh. Bangladeshis overwhelmingly (90%) understand that to have democracy there must be more than one party competing. Although most people (65%) feel free to express their political opinion, a third (35%) of respondents did not feel free to express their political opinions or were unsure. There has been a significant decline in perceptions of freedom to express political opinion since 2006, these findings suggest increasing political polarization in Bangladesh.

Political Engagement: Women show less interest in politics than men, with 28% of men saying they always or often discuss politics, compared to just 14% women. Almost a third of the respondents (31%) say their interest in politics has decreased over the last three years. Although elections are seen as consequential, just a fifth of the voters believe they personally can have some influence over decision making at the national level.

Political Parties and Political Choice: The individual remains the most important factor in vote choice for 70% of respondents, a finding that is unchanged from 2006. Personal achievement (44%) is by far the most important factor in candidate choice; education (14%) and family background (10%) are also important factors. A third of respondents (32%) look primarily to the history of the party in deciding how to vote, an increase of 8 points since 2006.

Political Representation: Most respondents understand the role of MPs in Parliament. A strong majority of 83% correctly named their MP, and 9% report they have personally contacted an MP for help with a problem. Women’s access to national and local government officials has increased significantly since the 2006 survey, though remains lower than access by men. A majority of respondents (56%) are satisfied with the work their MP is doing.

Women in Elections and Politics: Women are less involved in civil society and political parties, and have less contact with political representatives. A strong majority of Bangladeshis (62%) think Parliament should have only or mostly male representatives, an opinion shared by both men (69%) and women (55%). Bangladesh is significantly less accepting of women in parliament than in Afghanistan, also surveyed in 2015. The mostly common given reasons relate to men’s intellectual superiority to women (men know more, more intelligent, understand politics, better educated). Though many think women unsuited for political leadership, most (83%) believe women should make their own choice in voting. Although majority believe national government should be mostly for men, a strong majority (71%) support reserved seats for women.

Communications and Social Media: Television is by far the most important media through which Bangladeshis learn about what is happening in the country (84%), while newspapers are cited by a quarter (25%) as a second choice source of information. Just 12% have access to the internet from a phone, and only 5% have a computer at home able to access the Internet. Most people who have access to the Internet use it to access social media, and the most common platform accessed is Facebook.

By providing insight into the perceptions and attitudes of Bangladeshis today, the Bangladesh’s Democracy: According to its People survey will support the Government of Bangladesh, Bangladeshi civil society, and the international community in strengthening the country’s democratic institutions, culture, and practice. The Asia Foundation expresses gratitude to donors for supporting this initiative.

The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia. Informed by six decades of experience and deep local expertise, our programs address critical issues affecting Asia in the 21st century—governance and law, economic development, women’s empowerment, environment, and regional cooperation.

The Asia Foundation is a nonprofit international development organization committed to improving lives across a dynamic and developing Asia. Informed by six decades of experience and deep local expertise, our work across the region addresses five overarching goals—strengthen governance, empower women, expand economic opportunity, increase environmental resilience, and promote regional cooperation.

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