chapter  3
19 Pages

Bangladesh: An Unsteady Democracy

The creation of Bangladesh in December 1971 was as much a struggle for constitutional justice as it was a movement of ethno-linguistic nationalism. Yet, the country's experience as a multi-party democracy could be said to have only properly begun in the 1990s. For most of its first two decades of independence, Bangladesh was dominated by regimes that had a hard time reconciling the pressing development priorities of one of the world's poorest nations - an international basket case to cite Henry Kissinger's grim metaphor - with the requirements of Western-style democracy. These governments made some progress in improving the country's socioeconomic condition, but much more still needs to be done. Its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has averaged a consistent, if unglamorous, 4-5 percent growth since the late 1970s;1 the population growth rate has declined from 3.2 percent in the early 1970s to around 2 percent today;2 average life expectancy has risen from 46 years in the 1970s to an estimated 55 years in the early 1990s;3 and the male literacy rate has steadily increased to almost 50 percent though the female literacy rate remains an abysmally low 22 percent.4