Bangladesh has experienced steady economic growth at a rate of approximately five percent annually during the past decade. Manufacturing of ready-made garments provides employment for over 2 million people, many of them women, and generates nearly 75 percent of the export earnings of the country. The discovery of substantial reserves of natural gas in Bangladesh could significantly boost the country's economy and the people's well-being if the reserves are managed carefully. Although two-thirds of Bangladeshis are farmers, more than three quarters of Bangladesh’s export earnings come from the garment industry, which began attracting foreign investors in the 1980s due to cheap labor and low conversion cost. In 2002, the industry exported US$5 billion worth of products. The industry now employs more than 3 million workers, 90% of whom are women. A large part of foreign currency earnings also comes from the remittances sent by expatriates living in other countries.
Obstacles to growth include frequent cyclones and floods, inefficient state-owned enterprises, mismanaged port facilities, a growth in the labor force that has outpaced jobs, inefficient use of energy resources (such as natural gas), insufficient power supplies, slow implementation of economic reforms, political infighting and corruption. According to the World Bank, "among Bangladesh’s most significant obstacles to growth are poor governance and weak public institutions.
After a bloody struggle for liberation from Pakistan in 1971, Bangladesh was established as a parliamentary democracy. The country was under military rule for many years, but a democratically elected government was re-established in 1991. Parliamentary elections took place in 1996 and 2001, with a peaceful transfer of power. The major political parties are the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the Awami League, the Jatiya Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami Party. In late 2006 a caretaker government was put in place to ensure stability for the duration of the national election process.
Divisions, districts and Upazilas
Bangladesh is divided into seven administrative divisions, each named after their respective divisional headquarters: Barisal, Chittagong, Dhaka, Khulna, Rajshahi, Sylhet, and Rangpur.
Divisions are subdivided into districts (zila). There are 64 districts in Bangladesh, each further subdivided into upazila (subdistricts) or Thana. The area within each police station, except for those in metropolitan areas, is divided into several unions, with each union consisting of multiple villages. In the metropolitan areas, police stations are divided into wards, which are further divided into mahallas. There are no elected officials at the divisional, district or upazila levels, and the administration is composed only of government officials. Direct elections are held for each union (or ward), electing a chairperson and a number of members. In 1997, a parliamentary act was passed to reserve three seats (out of twelve) in every union for female candidates.
Dhaka is the capital and largest city of Bangladesh. Other major cities include Chittagong, Khulna, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Barisal, Bogra, Comilla, Mymensingh and Rangpur. These cities have mayoral elections, while other municipalities elect a chairperson. Mayors and chairpersons are elected for a span of five years