An extended post-election political crisis could unravel much of the recent economic progress in Bangladesh , which is still counting the cost of a series of disasters in its vital garment industry. While still one of Asia's poorest countries, Bangladesh has posted annual growth figures of about 6 per cent over the past five years and its poverty rate has fallen by about 2 percentage points. Once branded a "basket case" by US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, it was more recently named one of Asia's "emerging tigers" by investment house Goldman Sachs. Orders are shrinking. Many factories might not be able to pay workers’ wages SHAHIDULLAH AZIM Yesterday's election was meant to have been a chance for the young nation to demonstrate its democratic credentials to the international community. But with the main opposition boycotting the contest amid a wave of deadly violence, analysts say foreign investors are more likely to be scared off. "We are already seeing an adverse impact on the economy … which could cause irreversible losses in the longer term," said Mustafizur Rahman, head of Dhaka's Centre for Policy Dialogue think tank. "Shipment of exports, distribution of fertiliser to farmers, supply of goods and produce, purchasing power of consumers are hit hard. New export orders are slowing, production costs are rising." The Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry has put the cost of the disruption since October at more than US$4 billion, including a US$1 billion loss for the garment sector, the mainstay of the economy with Bangladesh now the world's No2 clothes manufacturer after China. The political turmoil caps a woeful period for the garment industry, which was hit by a series of strikes in May following the collapse of a factory complex in which at least 1,135 workers were killed. That disaster fuelled demands for substantial wage increases. Although basic salaries have been raised by 76 per cent, the average worker still earns just US$68 a month. "The minimum wages for the workers have been raised, but orders are shrinking. We fear many factories might not be able to pay their wages," said Shahidullah Azim, vice-president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. On Thursday, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina vowed to turn Bangladesh into a middle-income economy by the end of the decade. But the International Monetary Fund said in a report last month that growth would slow this year to 5.5 per cent, the slowest in a decade. "The economy faces challenges rising mainly from the uncertainty in the political environment, social unrest and the transition in the garment industry," the report said.