Bangladesh’s new foreign minister said Wednesday he was not concerned by a letter from a U.S. congressional committee that alleged fraud and other irregularities in last December’s general election.
Minister A.K. Abdul Momen said the South Asian nation had the backing of the American government in the wake of the polls, which saw Sheikh Hasina clinch a record fourth term as prime minister through a landslide. He was asked to comment about the letter published on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee’s website a day earlier.
In their letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a bipartisan group from the committee said it was dismayed by violence, mass arrests and a crackdown on free speech leading up to and during the Dec. 30 election. Hasina’s Awami League party retained its grip on power by winning nearly all the contested seats.
“I have seen the content of the letter. Listen, the allegation of fraud in the election is the observation of the foreign affairs committee, not of the U.S. government,” Momen told BenarNews. “The U.S. secretary of state has congratulated me for assuming the office of foreign minister.”
“This is very common practice; there is nothing to be worried about it (the letter),” he added.
The letter, signed by Rep. Eliot L. Engle, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and five other members questioned the outcome of the vote – pointing out that the Awami League claimed 288 of 298, or 96 percent, of the seats contested. That figure was more than in 2014 when the key opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotted the vote.
“Although the government-appointed election commission has claimed the election was legitimate, we believe the allegations of widespread rigging and voter suppression must be taken seriously,” the committee members wrote.
The letter also noted that other elections were scheduled in Asian countries this year, including in Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.
“It is crucial that the United States demonstrate its continued commitment to and respect for democratic institutions, beginning with Bangladesh,” the committee members urged the top American diplomat.
In Bangladesh, the letter drew support from Mahbubur Rahman, a BNP leader. The seven members of the BNP-led National Unity Front who won election refused to take the parliamentary oath of office earlier this year, calling the general election “farcical.”
“Through their letter, the frauds of the Dec. 30 polls have come to the fore and people have come to know about it. This letter will create some uproar,” he told BenarNews. “But the government will not pay heed to it. They will continue to claim that the election was fair.”
Meanwhile, Tareque Shamsur Rahman, a professor of international relations at Jahangirnagar University in Dhaka, said the letter represented the first strong criticism of the election.
“But I do not think that the letter would have any impact on the government. This is because recognition of the government from India, the U.S. and the European Union is most important to the government in Bangladesh,” Rahman told BenarNews.
He called on the country’s major political parties to move past their feud.
“Now, the government should create confidence-building measures for the opposition. This is because the two big parties, the Awami League and the BNP, must work together to take the country’s democracy forward,” he said.
Last week, Mohammad Ziauddin, Bangladesh’s ambassador to the United States, published a column in the Washington Times newspaper celebrating the Awami League’s victory and casting aside doubts about the vote’s legitimacy.
“Some in the international media found it hard to believe that Bangladeshi voters could back one party so thoroughly. A closer look at the polls and how much life has improved in Bangladesh over the last 10 years removes that doubt,” the ambassadors wrote.
“Why such massive popularity? Under Sheikh Hasina, Bangladeshis have progressed at a blistering pace,” he went on as he listed milestones of economic growth achieved under Hasina’s leadership.