Country Risk

Fracturing Bangladeshi opposition alliance will allow ruling party to consolidate authority, reducing government instability and protests risks

09 April 2019

BNP leader Khaleda Zia (C), currently serving a prison sentence on corruption charges, is escorted to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) for treatment in Dhaka on 1 April 2019. Source: STR/AFP/Getty Images

On 7 April, senior members of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) launched a hunger protest to demand the release of BNP leader and former prime minister Khaleda Zia, who has been imprisoned since February 2018 following corruption convictions. The BNP has become increasingly marginalised since the party's opposition alliance, the Jatiya Oikya Front, was comprehensively defeated in the December 2018 general election after winning only seven of 300 parliamentary seats. The ruling Awami League's coalition received more than 90% of the popular vote, securing 288 seats.

  • The Jatiya Oikya Front (JOF) alliance risks disintegrating in the three-month outlook, which would almost certainly improve the stability of the incumbent government. Immediately after the December election, the JOF alleged electoral fraud and demanded a fresh election. Crucially, however, the JOF - which was formed months ahead of the general election - is clearly fracturing. On 1 March, two non-Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) members of the alliance that secured seats in December publicly broke with the coalition's decision to boycott parliament, indicating growing rifts between the BNP and its coalition partners. The AL government is very unlikely to face sufficient internal or external pressure to comply with the opposition demand and hold another poll.
  • The BNP and its allies are likely to hold small-scale protests, but unrest is unlikely to prove commercially disruptive. The BNP appears to be considering a resort to violent protests demanding Zia's release, according to domestic media reports. However, this is unlikely to be realised given the BNP's diminishing capacity to organise effective nationwide protests since 2014, together with mass arrests targeting party activists and ongoing corruption investigations against senior BNP leaders. Although BNP protests are likely to recur over the coming year, these will probably remain localised, involving less than 100 people, and will generally remain peaceful to allow the BNP leadership to attract international sympathy and build more effective political alliances.

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