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Bangladesh - November 28, 2023

Bangladesh preparing for unfair elections

Voice of America reports

Staff Correspondent: Although the Election Commission of Bangladesh has announced the National Assembly elections on January 7, rights activists and political analysts say that the country’s situation is not at all conducive for elections. Mass repression against opposition parties continues. Party leaders and workers are still being arrested arbitrarily across the country. Rights activists say that free and fair elections cannot be held in this situation. Julia Bleckner, senior researcher on Asia at the international human rights organization Human Rights Watch, told Voice of America that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is quickly filling Bangladesh’s jails with opponents ahead of the elections in January. Human Rights Watch documented cases of enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary arrests of political opponents last month. Bleckner added that free and fair elections have been made impossible by ongoing periodic security crackdowns by security forces against members of the opposition, critics and human rights activists. This was stated in a report published in the online Voice of America.
It also said that the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotted the 2014 elections. There are allegations of widespread vote rigging in the 2018 national elections against the Prime Minister’s ruling Awami League. Since last year, the United States and other countries have been urging Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to conduct the national elections in a free and fair manner.
In September, the United States announced that it had begun imposing a visa ban on a person or persons who interfered with the democratic electoral process in Bangladesh. BNP and its allies have been demanding Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s resignation since the schedule for the upcoming parliamentary elections was announced. Hundreds of opposition leaders and activists are being arrested every day in a crackdown by government security forces against opposition parties.
Jails full of Rajbandi: There are 68 jails in the country. Its capacity is 42,700. Currently it is overflowing with prisoners. Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Kamal said the number of prisoners in September was 77,200. According to the party statement, among these prisoners are at least 25,000 prisoners of the BNP and its allies. BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi told Voice of America that the government actually wants to keep the country’s biggest opposition party away from the elections. He said, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and thousands of party leaders and almost all our senior leaders have been arrested by the government in false cases. They did this so that our party could not use its full strength in participating in the elections. Thousands of BNP leaders are in hiding to avoid arrest. They are stationed outside the house. There is currently no environment for a free, fair and acceptable election in the country. BNP’s participation in this election is meaningless.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police Spokesperson Mohammad Farooq Hossain said that the allegations of filing false cases against the opposition are baseless. He also said that when we receive reports of BNP or other opposition parties being involved in violent incidents such as cocktail attacks, attacks on the police, the police conducts a preliminary investigation. Only if someone is found guilty in this investigation, he is arrested or prosecuted.
BNP said in a statement that at least 400 former MPs, senior leaders and activists have been jailed by the court in a few days. Among the convicts are some potential candidates. Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman of the Capital Punishment Justice Project. His organization has been documenting human rights violations in Bangladesh for at least 15 years. Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman said that Sheikh Hasina is periodically using the country’s judiciary as a tool to discipline those with different opinions. He further said that the Judiciary is fulfilling the ruling group’s desire to mass indict the opposition leaders ahead of the one-sided national elections. The Judiciary, law enforcement agencies, intelligence units and the Election Commission are working together to deliver a shameful election that the people of Bangladesh have apparently already rejected.
Not a real election: Badiul Alam Majumdar, founder of Dhaka-based pro-democracy group ‘Citizens for Good Governance’ or SUZON, says Bangladesh is headed for another one-sided election. He further said that by definition, the electorate will choose the person of their choice from among the alternative candidates, who will be comparable. Voters will choose the candidate independently. We have two big comparable brands in Bangladesh selection. They are Awami League and BNP. Despite the participation of fractional or kingside parties, in the absence of one of these two parties, voters will be deprived of the opportunity to choose a valuable candidate in a one-sided election. In such a practice, the winner is almost a foregone conclusion. It cannot be called a pure election.
Ali Riaz, a professor of political science at Illinois State University in the US, said the consequences would be dire if the main opposition parties were excluded and rigged like the two previous elections. It will not just be political. At the same time, this consequence will be economic and diplomatic. Professor Ali Riaz also told Voice of America that the election of 2024 is going to be the most significant in the country’s history. These elections will determine which way the country will go – a one-party state like Cambodia or a return to democracy. He further said that BNP leaders and workers are being arrested en masse before the elections and they are being accused in unproven cases at an unusual speed. It clearly shows that the ruling party wants to rig the elections. This tension has further increased due to the Election Commission announcing the unilateral election schedule. The Election Commission is working as a tool to implement the rigging of the election by the ruling party. A meaningful election in any sense is absolutely impossible.

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