Working paper 127
Throughout Bangladesh’s history, its capital Dhaka has witnessed intense political competition, including numerous coup, mass uprisings and, more recently, a violent rivalry between the Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Over recent decades, rallies, strikes, street fights and small bombings have been common, and while undesirable normatively, are taken as a sign of lively political competition. It is then striking that since 2015 the opposition have largely failed to disrupt the city, with the ruling Awami League achieving a level of dominance unseen in the country’s history. These events beg an obvious question: how has this been achieved? This paper argues that fundamental to this transition has been a shift in the character of the coercive organisations available to both ruling and opposition parties. The Awami League has strategically empowered the security agencies, enabling widespread arrests, intimidation and new surveillance technologies. This has eroded the organisational strength of the opposition, who, crucially, are also suffering the legacy of previous decisions, particularly the killing of gangsters in their last term in office, which today deprives them of the type of street muscle needed to compete. The BNP are left overwhelmed, having to negotiate and resist everyday forms of repression. With the security agencies central to sustaining political order in favour of the ruling party, these forms of governance will continue, and there are signs that an even more ambitious urban security agenda is emerging.