Citizens and Their Representatives—Widening Gap?

In many ways, western democracy functions differently in Bangladesh, notably in the relationship between citizens and their parliamentary representatives. The role of the Members of Parliament (MP) in the parliament is deemed less important to Bangladeshi citizens. Rather the MPs’ popularity, consequently their future electoral success, is determined by their direct relationship with the constituency—how connected they are to their locality, how they contribute to their local development work, and how responsive they are to the local people’s needs and demands. This is corroborated in the recent national survey conducted jointly by the Asia Foundation (TAF) and BIGD, Brac University, with 10,240 Bangladeshi citizens from December 2022 to January 2023. When asked about what MPs should do, most people talked about their immediate problems—for example, developing local infrastructure (51%), ensuring development in the locality (37%), ensuring welfare in the society (37%), solving local people’s problems (27%), helping poor people (24%), establishing educational institutions (21%) so on and so forth.  An MP’s role in the parliament was mentioned only by 2% of the respondents.

It appears from the survey that Bangladeshis also know a lot more about their MPs compared to the citizens of some Western nations. For instance, a 2018 survey in Australia revealed that only 39% of people knew the names of their MPs, and another poll in 2017 showed that less than 50% of US citizens knew the name of their representatives. Alternatively, our survey showed that about 71% could name their MP correctly. However, data from the previous rounds of the survey suggests a declining trend—in 2017, 86% of the respondents knew the name of their MP.

Can you name your MP?

Can you name your MP?

Is the decline random or is it because the engagement of the MPs with their constituents has also gone down? When asked if they are aware of their MPs’ visits to the locality in recent times, about 45% replied in the affirmative, 2018 was an election year, and perhaps that is why over two-thirds of the respondents that year mentioned the visit of their MPs. However, since then, it went down, and the rate in 2022 was the lowest since 2017 of the four survey rounds. The data clearly indicates that the interaction between the MPs and their constituents has gone down. Similar responses have been recorded when asked if they remember any recent work or initiative that the MP took last year. In 2022, an even lower rate of people, just 30%, mentioned any knowledge about any specific tasks or initiatives of their MPs.

Did your MP visit the locality in recent times? 

Did your MP visit the locality in recent times?

Does this increasing gap have any impact on the perceptions of the citizens about their MPs? Looking at the recently published International Republican Institute (IRI) survey results, it is clear that the citizens feel alienated from the political elites. When the survey asked whether people thought that there is a large gap between the political elite and the people of Bangladesh, about 43% strongly agreed and 45% somewhat agreed. In our survey as well, while the majority (55%) still agrees with the statement that ‘MPs care about general citizens like us’, it is a nine percentage points decline from 2019.

This apparent gap between citizens and their representatives is worrying, particularly in the context of an election this year. Does it have to do with the increasing representation of businesspersons in the parliament? In the 11th parliament, for instance, 61% of the elected representatives were businesspersons[1], and only 5% were politicians, while the rest came from different other professions.  Should we give them the benefit of the doubt on the ground that they are new and less experienced in politics and thereby do not know how to engage? Or does this indicate something more sinister, like overconfidence of the ruling party and growing indifference toward the voters?

Do you agree or disagree with the statement ‘MPs care about general citizens like us’?

Do you agree or disagree with the statement ‘MPs care about general citizens like us’



Syeda Salina Aziz is a Fellow of Practice at the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD)