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Bangladesh promises free and fair elections after US warns of visa restrictions | Election News

Bangladesh promises free and fair elections after US warns of visa restrictions |  Election News


Bangladesh will take steps to address and prevent illegal practices or interference in its elections, authorities said, a day after the United States threatened to restrict citizens of the South Asian nation who undermine them.

Concern erupted after accusations of voter fraud and targeting of political opposition marred the 2014 and 2018 national elections, charges denied by the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, whose Awami League party won both.

The 2014 elections were boycotted by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia’s rival Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP).

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday that the United States is adopting a new policy aimed at restricting visas for Bangladeshis who undermine the democratic electoral process in their country.

Blinken said the United States supports free, fair and peaceful national elections and will target pro-government or opposition supporters in the deeply polarized nation.

I am announcing this policy to give our support to all who seek to advance democracy in Bangladesh, said Blinken, who already has the power under US law to restrict visas in cases of election interference.

He said the move could affect current or former officials and politicians and members of law enforcement, judiciary and security services suspected of being responsible or complicit in undermining the democratic electoral process in Bangladesh.

Holding free and fair elections is the responsibility of all voters, political parties, government, security forces, civil society and the media, he said in a statement.

In response, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on Thursday, assuring free and fair elections, scheduled for January next year.

The government apparatus will take the necessary measures to prevent and deal with any illegal practice or interference that could jeopardize the smooth and participatory conduct of the elections, he said.

The electoral process will remain under strict surveillance, including by international observers accredited by the Electoral Commission.

The commission retains the ability to perform its functions with independence, credibility and efficiency, the ministry added.

Prime Minister Hasina ensures fair elections

Speaking at the Qatar Economic Forum in the capital Doha on Wednesday, Hasina also pledged a fair election.

I am here to ensure the right to vote for our people because the people must decide who will run the country. It is the power of the people. I want to ensure the power of the people, she says.

I am not here to take power, rather I want to empower our people. They should have the right to choose their government. So, under our government, it is certain that the elections will be free and fair.

Responding to Blinkens’ statements, Hasina said: As far as the United States is concerned, you can see that Mr. Trump did not accept the results. What do they have to say now? We told everyone that if they want to send observers, they can.

Hasina, who has tightly controlled the South Asian nation since coming to power in 2009, has been accused of human rights abuses, the annihilation of press freedom, the crackdown on dissent and the imprisonment of critics, including many BNP supporters.

The BNP called for Hasina’s resignation and for the next elections to be held under a neutral caretaker government, a request his government rejected.

This new visa policy proves once again that the international community is certain that a free and fair election is not possible under this government, said a senior BNP official, Zahir Uddin Swapon.

Hasina is generally seen as a Western ally, with her opposition to Muslim extremist groups and pro-business policies. It maintains particularly close ties with neighboring India. China is also seeking to influence the eighth most populous country in the world, investing billions of dollars in infrastructure projects.

But the United States under President Joe Biden has also raised concerns about the human rights record as well as a digital security law that has been seen as a way to curb online dissent. Washington did not invite Bangladesh to the two democracy summits it hosted.

Since December 2021, the United States has maintained sanctions against an elite police unit targeting crime and terrorism, which has been accused of extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances.

Bangladeshi political analyst Badiul Alam Majumdar hailed the new US election-related restrictions.

I see this restriction as a preventive measure, he added. This could prevent attempts by individuals to rig elections in their favor.




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