The USA has commended the Khulna and Gazipur city polls for being participatory and having witnessed lower level of violence, but voiced concern over reports of election irregularities, including stuffing of ballot boxes and intimidation of political players and polling agents, before the end of voting.
“While we commend the city corporation elections, the USA remains concerned by reports of police harassment and arrests of opposition polling agents and politicians in the weeks leading up to the elections,” said US Ambassador in Dhaka Marcia Bernicat.
Her statement came two days after the Gazipur city polls which saw the ruling Awami League mayoral candidate win by a huge margin amid allegations of irregularities.
She was addressing the “DCAB Talk”, organised by Diplomatic Correspondents Association Bangladesh, at Jatiya Press Club yesterday.
She said good things about the recent city polls were that those were participatory and the number of incidents of violence was much lower than in the previous polls.
Bernicat mentioned that the process of a free and fair election does not start from the election day; rather it is a long process. The voters should have the confidence that their voting rights are preserved and they can exercise their rights in a free and fair manner, she added.
It should be ensured that the polling agents of the opposition candidates can act properly, opposition candidates can register their candidacy freely and opposition parties can hold peaceful assembly without any intimidation, she told the programme.
She said the USA laid emphasis on giving people their right to choice in national elections and the Bangladeshis fought for and earned this right back in 1971. “You have laws to create fair conditions and you have the know-how to hold fair elections.”
Bernicat said the US wanted Bangladesh to fulfill its commitment to holding a free, fair, credible and participatory national election, making sure that people's choice was reflected in the final results.
“The government of Bangladesh has committed to holding free, fair, credible and participatory elections that would reflect the will of Bangladeshi people. We look to the government to fulfill this commitment.”
Responding to a question, the US envoy said in some ways the municipal elections were leading indicators of what the general election look like. She said it matters to the USA as a fellow democracy that Bangladesh has good elections.
The diplomat observed that the allegation of arrests of opposition leaders for harassment should be addressed.
She said Bangladesh needed a political environment that promotes tolerance, human rights, and supports the democratic process and allows all the citizens to have a strong, peaceful voice.
“Freedom of expression, vibrant media, the right to peaceful assembly, including demonstrations, and free, fair, participatory and credible elections are vital for continuous and stable growth of Bangladesh.”
The US envoy, who came to Dhaka three years back, said her country would continue to cheer on the successes related to previous elections and would continue to urge to address the concerns of irregularities. “The USA wants to see nobody is worried about that their voices will not be heard and their choices are not reflected on the final results.”
About the Rohingya issue, Bernicat said the USA stands proudly with Bangladesh to support the policy of protection and accountability and is working with its allies and partners, including Bangladesh, to help ensure that there will be justice for the victims and those responsible for heinous atrocities and other human rights violations will face the consequences.
She appreciated Bangladesh's engagement with Myanmar to ensure voluntary return of Rohingyas to Myanmar in a “safe and dignified” manner.
About the ongoing anti-narcotics drive in Bangladesh, she said the “kingpins” should be caught and the network of illegal drug traders should be destroyed. She also talked about training and learning from each other to avoid any situation of “shootout” and to do things in the right way.
Bernicat said a strong Bangladesh was crucial for the stability of Indo-Pacific region and the USA's Indo-Pacific strategy was aimed at building a more stable and prosperous region where sovereignty is upheld.
On cooperation in the areas of countering terrorism and violent extremism, the diplomat said her country was committed to working with Bangladesh for safety and security of the people of the two countries. “This is a global issue and it requires a coordinated global response.”
DCAB President Rezaul Karim Lotus and General Secretary Mahfuzur Rahman Mishu also spoke at the programme.
LEE ARRIVES TODAY
Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, arrives in Dhaka today on a 10-day visit to Bangladesh to see Rohingyas in makeshift shelters in Cox's Bazar.
According to a UN press release issued in Geneva yesterday, she is determined to reach out to the victims of human rights abuses in Myanmar to learn more about their experience to understand better the human rights situation in Myanmar.
The special rapporteur would meet UN and government officials in Dhaka. In Cox's Bazar, she will meet UN agencies, health and gender-based violence (GBV) actors, NGOs and government officials.
She also intends to visit Bashan Char, where the government has planned to settle around 100,000 Rohingyas until their repatriation in their homeland Myanmar.