US and UK slam Bangladesh election retaining status quo as not free, undemocratic

BenarNews staff
Washington and Dhaka
US and UK slam Bangladesh election retaining status quo as not free, undemocratic Sheikh Hasina, who retained her post as prime minister of Bangladesh after her Awami League party won the election, meets foreign observers and journalists at the prime minister's residence in Dhaka, Jan. 8, 2024.
Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

The U.S. and U.K. on Monday criticized the Bangladesh general election that saw the ruling Awami League retain power as “not free” nor democratic as the polls held a day earlier were boycotted by the opposition after months of violence.

The two Western allies also condemned the incidents of violence and alleged intimidation of opposition members in the months leading up to the election and urged Bangladesh’s government to credibly investigate them.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League clinched a fourth consecutive term in Sunday’s polls, which were boycotted by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) because she had refused to meet its demand to resign in order to allow a neutral caretaker administration to oversee a fair electoral process.

In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it supported the people of Bangladesh “and their aspirations for democracy, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression” and noted that the Awami League had won a majority of seats in the Sunday elections.

“The United States shares the view with other observers that these elections were not free or fair and we regret that not all parties participated,” the State Department said in a statement issued Monday.

“The United States remains concerned by the arrests of thousands of political opposition members and by reports of irregularities on election day.”

Washington in May had said it would deny visas to Bangladeshis whom it believes would undermine democratic elections in the South Asian nation.

Before Sunday’s election, Bangladesh had been governed since 2009 by Hasina and her party. Their three previous consecutive electoral wins included one boycotted by the BNP and its allies in 2014, and one widely criticized as rigged in 2018.

The U.S. statement on Monday did not mention that there would be any repercussions against Bangladesh.

“Looking ahead, the United States remains committed to partnering with Bangladesh to advance our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, to supporting human rights and civil society in Bangladesh, and to deepening our people-to-people and economic ties,” the State Department said.

(Left to right) Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, U.S. President Joe Biden, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attend the launch of the Global Biofuels Alliance at the G20 Summit in New Delhi, Sept. 9, 2023. [Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/AFP]

In London, the British government said that democratic elections depended on credible open and fair competition, and respect for human rights, the rule of law and due process.

“These standards were not consistently met during the election period,” said the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office of Britain, which is the former colonial ruler of the Indian subcontinent.

“We condemn the acts of intimidation and violence that took place prior to and during the campaign period. Such conduct has no place in political life. Not all political parties took part in the elections. The Bangladeshi people did not therefore have the fullest range of voting options.”

Tens of thousands of opposition leaders and activists have reportedly been arrested since Oct. 28, when the BNP staged the final of a series of mass rallies demanding that a caretaker government take the place of the Hasina one.

Ten people died in political violence that October weekend, and at least 21 more, mostly opposition members, have died since in clashes, blockades or arson.

Volker Türk, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, on Monday said the arrests of opposition leaders and the alleged intimidation in the months leading up to the election are tactics that “are not conducive to a truly genuine process.”

He said the Bangladesh government needed to “strengthen the underpinnings of a truly inclusive democracy” and incidents of violence must be effectively investigated. 

“Democracy was hard won in Bangladesh and must not become cosmetic,” Türk  said in a statement.

“The future of all Bangladeshis is at stake.”

Critics say that during her 15-year reign, Hasina has cracked down on free speech, muzzling the opposition and civil society, and has co-opted state institutions to do her bidding.  

Britain, in its statement, said that all sides should attempt to break the impasse between the Awami League on the one hand and the opposition and activists on the other.

“Creating the conditions for a sustainable political settlement and vibrant civil society will enable long-term growth,” the statement said.  

“We encourage all political parties to address their differences and find a common way forward in the interests of the people of Bangladesh.”

Some countries congratulate Hasina

Meanwhile, according to a press statement from Hasina’s office, envoys from some countries, including Russia, China and India, met the Bangladeshi PM on Monday to congratulate her for her party’s win on Sunday. 

“They congratulated the Prime Minister on her party Awami League’s absolute victory in the 12th parliamentary elections and pledged to continue support for Bangladesh,” the statement said.

Congratulating Hasina, the Chinese envoy in Dhaka said in a statement that China would always be a trustworthy partner to Bangladesh on the South Asian nation’s path to modernization.

China has invested in several large infrastructure projects in Bangladesh, and promised investments to the tune of U.S. $38 billion in projects.

The Russian Embassy in Dhaka said that envoy Alexander Mantytsky congratulated Hasina and “expressed hope for further cooperation between Russia and Bangladesh, as well as outlined promising areas of bilateral partnership.”

Bangladesh's only nuclear power plant is being constructed with the investment and technical support of Russia.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Hasina in a telephone call.

“Spoke to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and congratulated her on her victory for a historic fourth consecutive term in the Parliamentary elections,” Modi said on X, formerly Twitter. 

 “We are committed to further strengthen our enduring and people-centric partnership with Bangladesh.”

Shailaja Neelakantan in Washington and Ahammad Foyez in Dhaka contributed to this report.


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