Head to Head

Is Bangladesh a one-party state?

Gowher Rizvi, international affairs adviser to the PM of Bangladesh, discusses the state of the country’s democracy.

Editor’s note: This interview was recorded before the February 28, 2019 announcement by Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque that Bangladesh “would no longer be in a position to accommodate more people from Myanmar”.

In this episode of Head to Head, Mehdi Hasan challenges Gowher Rizvi, the adviser to the prime minister of Bangladesh on international affairs, on the state of the country’s democracy and whether it is heading towards authoritarianism.

Once one of the poorest countries in the region, Bangladesh’s economy has been booming over the last decade, with economic growth faster than its neighbours India and Pakistan. It also boasts lower infant mortality and longer life expectancy than its peers.

Just because a party has been elected three times, it is not a one-party state.

by Gowher Rizvi

However, human rights groups warn that the country is becoming increasingly autocratic, accusing the government of clamping down on any form of dissent and hounding and locking up its political rivals.

In recent general elections, Bangladesh’s ruling party, the Awami League, reasserted its power following a landslide victory. The opposition rejected the results amid violence which saw 17 killed and allegations of vote-rigging and intimidation.

Rizvi, a close ally of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, is also a renowned historian and former Oxford University scholar. We challenge him on government’s record in office and whether it is increasingly trying to silence its critics.

We also ask Rizvi about the ongoing Rohingya crisis, as over one million refugees have fled Myanmar and are living in camps in Bangladesh. Is Bangladesh doing enough to help?

We are joined by a panel of three experts:

  • Saida Muna Tasneem – Bangladesh’s High Commissioner to the UK and Ireland
  • Abbas Faiz – South Asia analyst at Essex University, previously worked for Amnesty International for more than 30 years
  • Tasneem Khalil – Swedish Bangladeshi journalist, author of Jallad: Death Squads and State Terror in South Asia

Is Bangladesh a one-party state? with Gowher Rizvi will be broadcast on March 1 at 20:00 GMT and will be repeated on March 2 at 12:00 GMT, March 3 at 01:00GMT and March 4 at 06:00 GMT.

Follow us on Facebook and @AJheadtohead  and watch previous Head to Head shows here.


Head to Head is Al Jazeera’s forum for ideas, a gladiatorial contest tackling big issues such as faith, nationalism, democracy and foreign intervention, in front of an opinionated audience at the Oxford Union.

Mehdi Hasan goes head to head with Gowher Rizvi on Bangladesh's democracy [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]
Mehdi Hasan goes head to head with Gowher Rizvi on Bangladesh’s democracy [Screengrab/Al Jazeera]