Lots of issues in Bangladesh Elections, but will Sheikh Hasina government allow fair elections?

Lots of issues in Bangladesh Elections, but will Sheikh Hasina government allow fair elections?

Since its birth as an independent nation in 1971, democracy and the rule of law in Bangladesh have been beset by difficulties as its first decades were marked by coups and counter-coups following the assassination of the founding president.

Political buzz has started in Bangladesh for the parliamentary elections to be held next year. The opposition is demanding that elections should be held by handing over the leadership to the interim government but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is not ready for this. Since questions have always been raised on the fairness of parliamentary elections in Bangladesh, this time too there are many doubts in the minds of people. India is especially keeping an eye on Bangladesh elections because Sheikh Hasina is considered pro-India while her rival party’s stance is pro-China. Apart from this, fundamentalists become dominant in Bangladesh under the rule of Sheikh Hasina’s main rival Khaleda Zia.

In Bangladesh, the country has progressed under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, but on the economic front, the country is getting trapped in the debt trap and corruption is also at its peak. Politicians and businessmen with close ties to the current government are said to have bought houses and set up companies in the US, Canada, Singapore and elsewhere but the common Bangladeshi is facing all kinds of hardships. Unemployment is increasing very fast in Bangladesh. If we look at it, then only a healthy and strong democracy can solve the problems of this country full of young people with a large Muslim population in comparison to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran, but at the moment its chances are not visible.

As far as the history of parliamentary elections of Bangladesh is concerned, let us tell you that after its birth as an independent nation in 1971, democracy and rule of law in Bangladesh has been surrounded by difficulties because in its first decades after the assassination of the founding President. There was a period of coups and counter-coups. The political landscape in Bangladesh has always been changing with the systems of governance. It shifted between one-party rule, military control, electoral democracy, and an autocratic regime under a civilian government. On the face of it, the country’s political system now closely resembles that of Russia, with a group of oligarchs enjoying immense economic benefits and heavily invested in keeping the current regime in power.

Elections are to be held in Bangladesh in January 2024 and the main opposition party Bangladesh Nationalist Party is increasing pressure on the government by taking to the streets on a large scale and holding rallies demanding elections under a neutral caretaker government. However, the ruling Bangladesh Awami League is adamant that elections will be held in the country only under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Let us tell you that the last election considered free and fair in Bangladesh was held in 2008 and Sheikh Hasina came to power the next year. It is also noteworthy here that the 2014 and 2018 elections in Bangladesh were full of controversies. The opposition had boycotted the 2014 elections. The opposition participated in the 2018 election, but voting was marred by allegations of intimidation, opposition suppression and widespread vote rigging, including booth capturing for the ruling party.

There are reports that Transparency International Bangladesh had conducted a survey on fairness of voting in which various anomalies were found in 47 out of 50 seats. Human rights organizations have accused Sheikh Hasina’s government of pursuing a brutal policy, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and imprisonment of critics and opposition figures. According to Human Rights Watch data, about 600 people have gone missing since 2009. Security forces have been accused of 600 extrajudicial killings in the country since 2018. Swedish investigative journalism site Netra News found a secret prison in Dhaka named Ainaghar where missing people are allegedly kept. Let us tell you that in Bangladesh, Nobel Prize winner Mohammad Yunus is facing 198 cases and a Deputy Attorney General who said that Yunus was a victim of judicial harassment was dismissed.

Given this state of democracy and elections in Bangladesh, major liberal democracies including the US and Australia called for new elections, but India, Russia and China did not express any problem with the result. The US has expressed concern about democratic decline in Bangladesh, while China and Russia continue to support the current regime. On the other hand, clearly rejecting the US pressure on Sheikh Hasina, China’s Ambassador to Bangladesh recently said that his country will not interfere in the internal affairs of Bangladesh. Not only this, Russia even went ahead and condemned the interference of the American envoy in Bangladesh. In December 2021, the US President Joe Biden administration announced that the US would impose sanctions against the elite paramilitary force Rapid Action Battalion and six of its former officers, as well as the current and recent chiefs of Bangladesh Police. The US State Department has also imposed visa restrictions on two former police officers and their family members for gross human rights violations.

However, there is no doubt that a free and fair election in Bangladesh will prevent the country from slipping into dictatorship and pave the way for greater accountability. But there are reports that Bangladesh Nationalist Party may boycott the upcoming elections if its demand of holding general elections in the country under a caretaker government is not met. If this happens then elections and democracy will have no meaning.

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