Bangladesh Politico 2 December 2019
The UK, EU and USA have all now issued statements concerning the Bangladesh elections which will concern the government as they accept that vote rigging took place and cutt across the government narrative that these were free and fair elections. Each statement calls for the complaints to be examined.
Opposition politicians and activists may have expected more – some even hoping (highly unrealistically) that the US or the EU would not recognise the new Bangladesh government – but arguably these comments are as critical as these countries could make in relation to a friendly ally, whose assistance they need in the fight against islamic militancy, and support for the Rohingyas. (It is important to appreciate that Governments tend to recognise states, not governments.)
The mobilisation of voters and the participation of the opposition in the elections for the first time in 10 years reflect the aspirations of the people of Bangladesh to democracy. However, violence has marred the election day, andsignificant obstacles to a level playing field remained in place throughout the process and have tainted the electoral campaign and the vote.
The relevant national authorities should now ensure a proper examination of allegations of irregularities and commit to full transparency in their resolution.
The European Union expects the country to move forward towards democracy, respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. We will continue to support the work in this context, in the interest of the people of Bangladesh. (emphasis added)
The UK government stated:
While I welcome the participation of all opposition parties in these elections, I am aware of credible accounts of obstacles, including arrests, that constrained or prevented campaigning by opposition parties, and of irregularities in the conduct of elections on polling day that prevented some people from voting. I urge a full, credible and transparent resolution of all complaints related to the conduct of the elections.
I deplore the acts of intimidation and unlawful violence that have taken place during the campaign period, and am deeply concerned by the incidents that led to so many deaths on polling day. My thoughts are with the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones.
Free, fair, peaceful, and participatory elections are essential to any functioning democracy. It is vital for the government and all political parties to now work together to address differences and find a way forward in line with the interests of the people of Bangladesh.
We have a broad and important partnership with Bangladesh, and a significant Bangladeshi diaspora in the UK. We will continue to support the people of Bangladesh in their aspirations for a more stable, prosperous, and democratic future. (emphasis added)
The US government stated:
The United States commends the tens of millions of Bangladeshis who voted in Bangladesh’s 11th parliamentary election on December 30, 2018, as well as the decision of all major opposition political parties to participate, a positive development after the boycotted election of 2014.
The United States remains deeply invested in the future of Bangladesh and its democratic development. The United States is Bangladesh’s largest foreign investor, largest single-country market for Bangladeshi exports, and home to a large community of Americans of Bangladeshi origin.
In this light, we note with concern credible reports of harassment, intimidation, and violence in the pre-election period that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, and campaign freely. We are also concerned that election-day irregularities prevented some people from voting, which undermined faith in the electoral process.
We strongly encourage all parties to refrain from violence andrequest the Election Commission work constructively with all sides to address claims of irregularities. Bangladesh’s impressive record of economic development and respect for democracy and human rights are mutually reinforcing, and we look forward to continue working with the ruling government and opposition towards advancing these interrelated goals. (emphasis added)
The challenge for the opposition is now to systematically collect detailed evidence to prove that rigging took place on the scale that they allege – constituency by constituency, polling statement by polling station, polling agent by polling agent, at a level of detail and accuracy that will prove its case not only to the Election Commission and the country’s judicial authorities (which will no doubt reject it) but more significantly to the international community.
This is a major piece of work, requiring a lot of man power but something that should be done. The opposition must also ensure that they do not exaggerate their case, and ensure that their allegations are based on clear evidence.