For the first time in post-colonial history, all of the countries of South Asia are democracies.
From Bhutan to Bangladesh, Kabul to Kathmandu, democratic institutions are taking hold and giving people a voice in how they are governed. But these historic gains could be short-lived if troubling trends in some impending political transitions go unchecked.
Over the next six months, more than one billion voters across South Asia will choose leaders of some of the most diverse and vibrant countries in the world. Coming elections in India and Afghanistan and successful recent elections in Pakistan and Bhutan illustrate the depth of passion voters across the region have shown for electoral democracy.
Yet, major setbacks in Bangladesh and the Maldives, and worrying signs in Nepal underscore just how fragile and vulnerable these democracies are and why the international community must remain engaged in supporting democracy in South Asia.
In Bangladesh, as the ruling Awami League Party and the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party dispute how to hold constitutionally mandated elections this winter, there has been increasing political instability — with rallies and general strikes that have at times turned violent. The longer the two sides cannot agree on a framework for an interim government to oversee the next election, the more likely Bangladeshi citizens will take to the streets to express their frustrations.