The ‘Insights South Asia’ report on Bangladesh, compiled in partnership with the globally renowned public opinion research institute Gallup, was unveiled on June the 30th at a conference analysing Bangladesh’s role in the region and its perception both of itself and its neighbours.
This report on Bangladesh follows the first ‘Insights South Asia’ survey on Nepal, and will be followed by reports on other member states of SAARC. As the inquiry follows the same lines with some adaptations to different national realities, we could see that Bangladeshis opinions on most of the issues do not differ from their Nepalese counterparts.
In the second in a series of landmark reports focused on regional integration in South Asia and based on public surveys, the present report confirmed that also Bangladeshis have a positive approach to closer co-operation within the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC).
Around half of all respondents were familiar with SAARC, the principal mechanism for regional cooperation, and a majority of those who were familiar with SAARC supported it. A large majority of those who had heard of SAARC agreed that closer regional ties between the countries of South Asia would bring important benefits.
Like the Nepalese, Bangladeshis considered education as the most vital issue (58% in Nepal, 60% in Bangladesh), in their case followed by religious and spiritual values, family, work and living conditions.
Otherwise, 60% of Bangladeshis see overpopulation as one of the two more important factors preventing better economic conditions, whereas Nepalese consider the lack of political leadership as the more important negative factor. In both countries, corruption is seen as the second most important negative factor.
Bangladeshis have a clearly more positive appraisal of the economic conditions of their country than Nepalese – 40% consider them good or excellent against 22% in the case of Nepal. They have also a better appraisal of their families standard of living, 62% consider it improved in the past five years, whereas only 45% of Nepalese considered it improved in the past five years.
With regard to regional cooperation, Bangladeshis generally have a positive view of their neighbours, according to the report – although Pakistan and Afghanistan were viewed in a more negative light, in a pattern not very different from the one observed in Nepal.
Like the Nepalese, respondents were concerned about the perceived historic animosities and the danger posed by the arms race between nuclear powers India and Pakistan. According to the research, a clear majority of Bangladeshis want Islam to play a major role in the political life of the country.
In view of the particular situation of the country regarding water resources, Bangladeshis were also inquired on the potential of enhanced regional co-operation in water management as a means to insure better flood and drought control. An overwhelming 90% of the respondents had a positive view on the issue clearly indicating the way forward to deal with this potentially divisive issue.
Other than management of water sources, regional co-operation was seen as highly important for creating job opportunities both inside and outside the country, better transport systems and external trade opportunities.
Overall, the picture emerging from this poll confirms some of the established ideas on the country – as the perception of overpopulation to be a major obstacle to economic development or the importance of religion in public affairs – but defies many others, first and most importantly, the lack of significance of regional co-operation that, quite on the contrary, is seen by most as a strategic instrument towards peace and development, even considering one of the more contentious issues, water management.
People is also considerably more optimist and have a more positive regard on the economic situation of the country that could be otherwise understood, whereas corruption is seen as quite a problem.
On the whole this survey is showing the importance to use scientific and rigorous methods to understand what do the people think and expect, rather than trusting in superficial ideas acquired through sporadic contacts with the countries.
This article by Paulo Casaca first appeared on the website of EU-Asia Centre.