Almost five months to the day after a factory fire killed 112 garment workers outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh has another major industrial tragedy on its hands. At least 87 people were killed, and hundreds more injured, after an eight-story garment factory collapsed near the capital on Wednesday, calling attention to the persistence of unsafe conditions in Bangladesh’s $20 billion-a-year garment industry.
The promises from government officials following November’s Tazreen factory blaze — echoed by Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir on Wednesday — have come back to haunt the ruling Awami League at a particularly turbulent time. Awami has been facing massive street protests and a standoff with political rivals over recent verdicts from the country’s controversial war crimes tribunal.
In exploiting the government’s ineffective response to widespread workplace safety violations, the main opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), will have an issue with more broad-based appeal to contest the current government than the divisive blasphemy law they’ve been pushing for in recent weeks. The tragedy will also effectively undermine Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ambitious Padma river bridge project, thought to be the country’s biggest-ever infrastructure project, and a major symbol of her government’s efforts to move Bangladesh’s economy forward.
Still, all this means that victory in the elections scheduled for later this year will be a hollow one for the winning faction and one still hollower for the Bangladeshi citizenry. Whoever takes the reins of government will inherit nightmarish infrastructure problems that no amount of demagoguing — on the blasphemy laws or the controversial war-crimes trial verdicts that provoked massive street protests earlier in 2013 — can ameliorate.