Economic data and national election

Asjadul Kibria | Published: November 28, 2018 20:27:45 | Updated: December 22, 2018 12:59:54

As the 11th national parliamentary election is knocking at the door, the relevance of economic data becomes a key tool for all the stakeholders. From the party in power to all political parties aspiring to contest in the election, from activists to ordinary voters, data and indicators of the economy are likely to play an important role -- though from varying perspectives.

For the incumbent government as well as the party in power, data are crucial to reveal their successes in dealing with the country's economy. On the other hand, opposition political parties need data to expose the failure of incumbent government, especially in the economic arena. Interestingly for the voters, all data are important.

There is, however, no strong evidence that economic data play a vital role in voter's decision-making in countries like Bangladesh. Nevertheless, use of economic data in election campaign is always there. For example, the price of rice during a regime is used by all parties to show how good or bad the situation was for the people during that particular regime.

The scope of economic data is quite wide and to some extent overlap with other areas while macroeconomic indicators are not as extensive as economic data. But the indicators are based on the data.  And now big 'economic' data are also there.  Economists, analysts and experts may feel comfortable to deal with big data. But most people find it difficult to understand and draw any conclusion from the wide range of economic data.  To overcome the problem, data filtering or data selection is considered an effective tool. Political activists and supporters often go for data selection or data filtering according to their own preferences.

Reliability and quality of economic data in Bangladesh is still dubious in some cases. Over the years, efforts have been taken to improve the quality of data. At the same time, a number of steps taken by the policymakers put the quality of many data under question. 

Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) is the national statistical agency authorised to collect, compile, refine, filter and release almost all kinds of socio-economic data. Besides BBS, Bangladesh Bank is responsible for the financial sector data, while the National Board of Revenue (NBR) is for fiscal data. A few more government bodies are also entrusted to collect and provide data. But all these data are finally matched by the BBS to prepare comprehensive data set. There is nothing wrong in this practice as long as it is carried out systematically and without any undue intervention.

There is always an allegation that some political interventions are there especially on the works of BBS to refine, if not manipulate, some critical economic data. Despite such allegation, at the end of the day, it is the data provided by the BBS that everyone uses -- even if not found fully reliable.  The deficiency of these data is sometimes reflected in researches and analyses conducted by some other national, private and international agencies. For instance, almost a year back, research division of Bangladesh Bank examined the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) deflator and related indicators of the national economy and identified some flaws. But the work couldn't be advanced due to strong reservation from the senior policymakers.

Despite having such flaws, the officially released data and statistics have to be taken into consideration by all the stakeholders. These data are modest enough to portrait the socio-economic condition of the country while some more data are helpful to make it precise. In fact, data filtering is not as big a problem like data concealing. There is a growing trend in the country for not disclosing all the data even after filtering.

On the basis of released data, analysts can do a lot of work. By restricting the release of economic data, the authorities clearly want to avoid uncomfortable situations. No detailed or comprehensive analysis is possible with partial or selective data.  To overcome the limitations, experts and analysts sometimes use proxy indicators.

Another trick sometimes played by the authorities is presenting data in such a way that it looks rosier than reality. Probably, this is the most preferred way to convince people as there is little scope to distort economic data.

So, what are the major data or economic indicators likely to stir the voters? Data like higher economic growth rate, lower rate of inflation, steady rise in exports, surge in industrial output, increase in food production, annual employment generation are obviously preferred issues for the party in power to demonstrate its success. At the same time, data on the rise in income inequality, surge in default loans, slowdown in remittance inflow, dismal job market may be used by the opposing political parties to demean the success claimed by the ruling party in the past years.

With the election approaching nearer, use of economic data is likely to increase in different platforms no matter how these are presented.


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