There is never a dull moment in Bangladesh, especially now as the country gears up for the next Parliamentary elections, which are most likely scheduled for early next year. A visiting team from the European Union (EU), as part of an Election Exploratory Mission (ExM), held a detailed meeting with the Election Commission (EC) on July 11 to assess the extent of preparations for a fair and peaceful election.
Furthermore, a technical team from the mission was also expected to discuss pertinent election-related issues with the EC on July 18-19. The visiting team had been in Dhaka to evaluate the pre-electoral conditions and prepare an analysis for the EU, which would then determine whether deploying a full election observation mission in Bangladesh is warranted. The delegation was also engaging with numerous eminent figures to arrive at a “fair” decision.
Meeting with parties
Meanwhile, the EU Ambassador to Bangladesh, Charles Whiteley, emphasised the importance of peaceful, fair, and participatory elections, stating that the EU encourages such elections in Bangladesh. He made this declaration following his meeting with Awami League (AL) General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader. The delegation conducted meetings with all political parties, civil society groups, and even the security forces.
Earlier, on July 11, the EU Ambassador in Bangladesh, Charles Whiteley, held separate and extensive meetings with Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and Jatiya Party (JaPa) Chairman GM Quader. The purpose of these meetings was to confirm whether JaPa would participate in the upcoming elections. Specifically, they sought to ascertain whether the party would participate alone or as part of a coalition.
The BNP, for its part, had conveyed to the EU Ambassador in Dhaka that a fair and free election would not be possible without a neutral government. That’s a hackneyed BNP stand which was reiterated.
Furthermore, the six-member ExM of the EU recently commenced its two-week mission to assess the overall situation concerning the upcoming general elections in Bangladesh. The mission held meetings with EU ambassadors and some other Western diplomats, including representatives from the US and the UK. The EU mission aimed to gather insights from all EU envoys in Dhaka, as well as from Canada, Norway, and Switzerland, regarding their perspectives on the current domestic political landscape, as stated by an envoy from an EU member country in comments to the media. A broad consensus was reached during the discussions to stress the importance of these envoys recommending the deployment of a full-fledged observer mission later this year, regardless of the current stance of certain political factions regarding their involvement.
In a related development, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller announced that the US does not have any inclination towards any particular political party in Bangladesh; rather, they support a genuine democratic process for the country. Miller made these remarks during the State Department’s regular briefing on July 10, addressing the concept of free, fair, and participatory elections in Bangladesh. In response to a question about criticism from Russia, China, and Iran regarding the US stance on Bangladesh elections, Miller clarified that Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has reiterated her commitment to free and fair elections. He categorically ruled out providing support to any one political party over another, asserting instead the US’s endorsement of a bona fide democratic process.
Regarding the visit of US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, Uzra Zeya, to Bangladesh, Miller mentioned that she would engage with senior government officials to discuss shared humanitarian concerns. These discussions would encompass topics such as the Rohingya refugee crisis, labour issues, human rights, free and fair elections, and the combatting of human trafficking. Zeya would also interact with civil society leaders to address freedom of expression and association, human labour rights (including those of vulnerable groups), and matters related to governance and democracy.
AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader claimed on July 9 that the BNP has covert connections with Israel and its intelligence agency, Mossad. He went on to state that a meeting between a Mossad representative and a senior BNP leader had been exposed, asserting that the BNP had consistently been involved in such clandestine activities.
Expanding upon his allegations against the BNP, Quader referred to Bangladesh’s historical ties with Palestine. He added that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had extended an invitation to thenPresident of Palestine, Yasser Arafat, during the celebration of Bangladesh’s twenty-fifth anniversary of independence. Quader also accused Fakhrul of failing to provide specific evidence regarding phone hacking, highlighting that it is unlawful to make sweeping statements about such a sensitive matter in the absence of any evidence.
Such acrimonious war of words is likely to gain more momentum in the coming months, making the election campaigning tense and fraught with uncertainty. Additionally, with the Election Commission (EC) and the US intensifying their oversight to ensure free and fair elections under a “neutral caretaker government,” the BNP and its affiliates are likely to amplify their anti-AL propaganda and aggressive rhetoric.