The US, UK, Canada and Commonwealth have termed the just-concluded parliamentary elections in Bangladesh “disappointing” as more than half of the seats were uncontested and the remaining ones showed only token opposition.
They said the results of Sunday's elections had failed to reflect the will of the people, and called the new government and all political parties to immediately engage in dialogue to find a path forward for holding a new national election that is free, fair, credible, peaceful and truly participatory.
The influential countries came up instantly with sharp reaction after the ruling Awami League swept the polls securing more than two-thirds majority, with the BNP-led opposition parties boycotting the election terming it a “farce”.
The countries in separate statements also condemned violence in the strongest word possible and urged the political leadership in Bangladesh to do everything to halt violence and intimidation, especially against the minorities, immediately.
However, India phrased the general elections “a constitutional requirement”.
India's external affairs ministry said that while it was for the people of Bangladesh to decide their own future and choose their representatives, "violence cannot and should not determine the way forward".
India is the first country that came up with an official reaction yesterday afternoon.
In response to questions on the January 5 polls, the official spokesperson of India's external affairs ministry stated: "Elections in Bangladesh on 5th January were a constitutional requirement. They are a part of the internal and constitutional process of Bangladesh."
"It is for the people of Bangladesh to decide their own future and choose their representatives in a manner that responds to their aspirations… The democratic processes must be allowed to take their own course in Bangladesh,” the spokesperson said in a statement on the ministry's website.
Expressing disappointment, the United States said, “With more than half of the seats uncontested and most of the remainder offering only token opposition, the results of the just-concluded elections do not appear to credibly express the will of the Bangladeshi people.”
In a press statement yesterday night, Deputy Spokesperson of the US State Department Marie Harf said “….It remains to be seen what form the new government will take, United States commitment to supporting the people of Bangladesh remains undiminished.
“To that end, we encourage the government of Bangladesh and opposition parties to engage in immediate dialogue to find a way to hold as soon as possible elections that are free, fair, peaceful, and credible, reflecting the will of the Bangladeshi people.”
Condemning in the strongest terms the violence from all quarters that continues to mark the prevailing political impasse, the statement said, “Violence is not an acceptable element of the political process; we call on all to stop committing further violence.”
“Bangladesh's political leadership -- and those who aspire to lead -- must do everything in their power to ensure law and order and refrain from supporting and fomenting violence, especially against minority communities, inflammatory rhetoric, and intimidation.”
The United States called upon the government of Bangladesh to provide political space to all citizens to freely express their political views. It also called strongly on the opposition to use such space peacefully and responsibly, and for all sides to eschew violence, which is not part of democratic practice and must stop immediately.
"Like others in the international community the UK believes that the true mark of a mature, functioning democracy is peaceful, credible elections that express the genuine will of the voters," Baroness Warsi, the UK senior foreign office minister, said yesterday.
It is therefore, she said, "disappointing that voters in more than half the constituencies did not have the opportunity to express their will at the ballot box and that turnout in most other constituencies was low."
Commenting on the election results, the British minister said the UK noted the announcement of the election results in Bangladesh "an election called in accordance with Bangladesh's constitution."
Deploring the acts of intimidation and unlawful violence from all parties and arson attacks on public establishments, Warsi said: "We are deeply concerned at the deaths of so many people, political harassment and the heightened political tensions which underlie them."
The UK urged the new government and all political parties to act in line with the interests of the people, she said in a press release issued by the British High Commission in Dhaka.
Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said, "Canada welcomes the major parties' willingness to consider holding a new national election and urges all parties to reach an agreement soon that would allow the next election to be truly participatory, with results that all Bangladeshis will see as credible."
Expressing dismay over the violence and controversy that marred the electoral period, the Canadian foreign minister said: “We condemn this violence in the strongest terms, particularly the senseless attacks on the most vulnerable citizens -- children, women, and religious and ethnic minorities.
"Violence as a political strategy is unacceptable. Canada calls on all parties to publicly renounce and condemn political violence.”
Political instability has bred economic instability, which has caused long-term damage to Bangladesh's economy and may continue to do so, said John Baird.
"We fear that this damage has undermined Bangladesh's economic progress and developmental path," he added.
The Commonwealth, a voluntary association of 53 independent countries, also termed the 10th parliamentary elections in Bangladesh "disappointing".
"The limited levels of participation and the low voter turnout are disappointing. The acts of violence are deeply troubling and indeed are unacceptable in response to any political situation," said Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma in a statement yesterday.
In the Commonwealth Charter, Kamalesh Sharma said, it is a shared responsibility of governments, political parties and civil society to uphold and promote democratic culture, including the inalienable right of individuals to participate in free and fair elections.
"….It is critical that Bangladesh moves quickly to find a path forward through dialogue to a more inclusive and peaceful political process in which the will of the people can be fully expressed," he said.
“The Commonwealth remains ready and willing to assist Bangladesh in advancing democratic cultures and processes, freedom of expression, the rule of law and our other shared core values, just as we offer this support to all our member countries."
The statement said the Commonwealth had been following closely the situation in Bangladesh relating to the parliamentary elections held on January 5.
However, the Commonwealth observers were not present at the polls, following an assessment that conditions were not compatible with Commonwealth election observation guidelines, particularly the need for inclusive and representative elections.