“If Bangladesh could save the economic and social losses due to hartals, the nation could aspire to match the outstanding progress being made by other countries in Asia,” said Jorgen Lissner, Resident Representative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), which issued the study in Dhaka, the country’s capital. “Ending the hartal culture could yield a development leap for the entire nation.” The report, entitled, “Beyond Hartals: Towards Democratic Dialogue in Bangladesh,” notes that, when in opposition, political parties are usually denied adequate chance to voice their views. The opposition is frequently sidelined in parliament and their social mobilization activities are curbed. Politicians claim that as a result, calling hartals is often their only chance to raise their concerns. Dubbing this vicious spiral as Bangladesh’s “hartal culture,” it makes numerous recommendations for moving forward, including reform of Parliament and the electoral and political party systems by introducing such measures as “opposition” days or hours in Parliament and ensuring the independence of the body’s speaker (leader). The report also recommends that Government enhance transparency by establishing basic watchdog agencies such as an ombudsman, a human rights commission and an effective anti-corruption commission. When a nationwide hartal is called by one of the major parties, Bangladesh is forced to shut down. Shops, markets and places of work stay closed. Children miss school. Buses and other means of transport are forced to stay off the roads. As a result, earnings are reduced, education activities obstructed and social services are difficult for ordinary people to access. Since the advent of democracy in 1991, the frequency of hartals has increased dramatically. From 1995 to 2002 611 hartals were called, compared to the period from 1947 to 1954 when there were only six. “In a globalized economy with fierce competition for investment capital and jobs, no country can afford continuous confrontational politics. If a country is largely closed for democratic dialogue, it cannot possibly be seen as open for business.” Mr. Lissner said. Today, nearly half of Bangladesh’s 141 million people live below the poverty line. The economy, with an average yearly growth rate of 5 per cent, has an impressive potential for pulling millions out of poverty, he added.