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Challenges and consequences centering Bangladesh 2024 general elections

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Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research scholar, and counterterrorism specialist. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers.

By January 9, 2024, Bangladesh needs to hold its next general election, despite the fact the largest opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) until now is expressing its unwillingness of participating in it stating it wants the next general elections under a “neutral caretaker” government, although it is not allowed under constitutional provisions of the country.

Should BNP refrain from participating in the upcoming election and repeat its boycott policy as it had in 2014, the next general elections shall be mainly contested between ruling Awami League and main opposition in the current parliament – Jatiya Party, a party formed by military dictator General Hussain Muhammad Ershad.

Meanwhile, the United States and the European Union have been consistently calling upon Bangladesh to ensure the next general elections in free, fair and participatory.

On April 10, 2023, during his meeting with Bangladesh’s foreign minister, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the whole world, including the US, is looking at the elections in Bangladesh. In addition to this, Washington talks about the new criteria for the election – setting a strong example of free and fair elections for the region and the world.

The opening statements by both the foreign policy chiefs were broadcast live on the State Department’s YouTube channel, which made it easier for us to understand the tone of the talks. In a very short opening statement, Secretary Blinken said, “We’re looking – the world is looking – to Bangladesh for its next elections, to make sure that they set a strong example for free and fair elections for the region and for the world”.

Following the meeting, Antony Blinken in a tweet said: “I underscored that free and fair elections and respect for human rights, media, and civil society are critical as we seek to deepen US-Bangladeshi ties”.

In his statement US State Department’s principal deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel said that the secretary [Blinken] “reiterated our commitment to promoting inclusive economic growth, free and fair elections, human and labor rights, and freedom of expression in Bangladesh. Additionally, Secretary Blinken expressed concerns about violence against and intimidation of the media and civil society, including under the Digital Security Act [DSA]. He underscored that free and fair elections and respect for human rights in Bangladesh are critical as we seek to deepen our bilateral relationship”. At a separate media briefing, Vedant Patel termed the DSA “one of the world’s most draconian laws for journalists”.

Earlier, the US Department of State in a report supporting pro-jihadist Jamaat-e-Islami said: “Leaders and members of Jamaat-e-Islami (Jamaat), the largest Muslim political party in the country, could not exercise their constitutional freedoms of speech and assembly because of harassment by law enforcement authorities. Jamaat was deregistered as a political party by the government, prohibiting candidates from seeking office under the Jamaat name”.

Jamaat-e-Islami has been enjoying decades-old cordial relations with the United States as this party serves American purposes under the garb of Islamism. Jamaat’s cousin organization Muslim Brotherhood is actually a brainchild of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), whereas Washington funded and instigated Mohamed Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood in waging so-called Arab Spring, which was designed to overthrow rulers in the Middle East and replace them with American puppet regimes. In Bangladesh, Jamaat-e-Islami is readily offering its absolute obedience and loyalty to Washington, once it can return to power – either solely or by remaining in coalition with Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). It may be mentioned here that both Jamaat and BNP are hardline Islamists, with anti-India ideology, whereas none of these parties are committed to China.

In 1971, both Jamaat-e-Islami and the United States had opposed Bangladesh’s war of independence.

While India has given clear signals of maintaining its cordial relations with Awami League – according to my assumption, in global politics India may not be able to counter any decision or conspiracy of the United States. Similarly, China and Russia are favorable to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Awami League, they too are not capable of saving Awami League from Washington’s pre-set mind or vicious agenda.

During her recent visit to the United States, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gave an interview to The Economist, She also gave an interview to the Bangla service of Voice of America, which certainly is important. In my opinion, our embassies in Japan, the US and Britain could easily organize more of such interviews with other major media outlets in those countries, and it would be far better if Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s interview could appear in major Japanese, American and British newspapers such as Asahi Shimbun, Nikkei Asian Review, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes magazine, The Hill, Huffington Post, The Washington Times, The Guardian, The Independent etcetera. As I have mentioned, an interview with The Economist is important, but it would be far-more beneficial, if similar interviews could appear in other major newspapers.

What may happen during the next general elections?

According to information that we are getting from statements of BNP, this party actually is unwilling to avoid participating in the election under numerous excuses because of the main reason that BNP is still in the dark on a key question – who will lead the party during the next election. It is understood that Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman are not eligible to run in the election as both are currently facing several convictions in criminal and graft cases, while Tarique is living in the United Kingdom since 2007 as a fugitive. Without Khaleda Zia in particular, BNP does not have the capability of winning support of voters in any election and she can not be replaced by party’s Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and other senior leaders of the party. Bangladesh Nationalist Party would participate in the next election only if Khaleda Zia’s convictions are repealed, which actually can be done through due legal processes where she needs to submit a petition with the president. Even if her convictions are repealed and she is set free from prison, that will not make her eligible for running in the election. Yes, she can participate in the party’s election campaign. Of course, the US or any of the Western countries cannot press demands to release Khaleda Zia from prison and repeal her convictions, because there is due process in doing so. In that case, what can the BNP do? Boycott the election? Once BNP finally refrains from participating in the next general elections, they cannot in that case raise the question related to the electoral process. As Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has repeatedly said that the next general election shall be free, fair and transparent, it is expected that her government will keep promises. We also hope the next general election shall be free, fair and transparent – irrespective of whether BNP participates in it or boycotts. But in this case, what option would remain for BNP following the election? Shall day resort to violent street protests as they did during the post-2014 election? Or will they wait for any “miracle” with the help of the United States in particular and other Western countries?

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Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury
Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is an internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, writer, research scholar, and counterterrorism specialist. He regularly writes for local and international newspapers.
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