The Hindu, New Delhi
Against the backdrop of growing western pressure to hold free and fair elections, the Bangladesh government has urged the Opposition parties to participate in the polls and has invited western observers to witness the vote on January 7. This invitation to foreign dignitaries was extended during an extraordinary outreach that the Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh, Masud Bin Momen, has held with around 90 diplomats based in Delhi during his ongoing visit to New Delhi.
Mr. Momen, who also held a Foreign Office Consultation with his Indian counterpart Vinay Mohan Kwatra on Friday, pushed back on a western proposal for holding dialogue with the Opposition saying there is no time left for any more political dialogue with the opposition BNP. However, he offered an assurance that the election would be inclusive, as a number of political parties, including a few “emerging parties”, will contest.
“Right now, we are going through the schedule of submission of nomination papers and scrutiny of nomination papers. Awami League, Jatiyo Party, many other emerging parties have started the process. There is a constitutional obligation to hold elections within ninety days of expiry of the parliament but even within this timeframe we can extend the date beyond January 7, as suggested by one of the election commissioners, if the BNP or any other parties decide to participate in the elections,” Mr. Momen said in a select media briefing, explaining that the Awami League government remains committed to holding transparent polling.
Foreign observers welcome
Mr. Momen held an extensive outreach with Delhi-based foreign diplomats on Friday evening and briefed them about the political situation back home. “I gave them guidelines regarding observing our election and welcomed them to open diplomatic missions in Bangladesh. We welcome foreign observers for the election,” said Mr. Momen, hinting that holding the interaction with foreign diplomats in Delhi was required, against the backdrop of “disruptive activities” by certain political parties in Bangladesh.
However, the Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary stated that reconciliatory dialogue between the ruling Awami League and the opposition BNP, as suggested by some western diplomatic sources based in Dhaka, is not possible any more. “Time has run out for any kind of dialogue. Dialogue that was held faced certain conditions [from the Opposition], asking for a caretaker government. The time for this kind of conditional dialogue has lapsed,” said Mr. Momen, closing the door on the western proposal.
The Awami League government has taken strong measures since an October 28 Opposition rally, which turned into a street battle between the police and the BNP’s supporters. Subsequently, a number of the BNP’s top leaders, including its general secretary Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir have been imprisoned.
The election in Bangladesh has acquired greater international visibility in recent months, especially after the United States increased pressure on Dhaka, calling for transparency. The U.S. has threatened to deny visas to any individuals found to be involved in undermining the election process. In recent weeks, U.S. Ambassador Peter Haas has come under media scrutiny for his outreach to political parties, which some sources in Bangladesh described as “activist diplomacy”.
The political situation in Bangladesh featured during the Foreign Office Consultation held on Friday, during which the Indian side hinted that it would not interfere in the political process in Bangladesh. Mr. Momen said that they did not discuss interference by “third countries”.
“India assured us that the election in Bangladesh is a matter to be determined by its people’s wishes and by the constitution, and that therefore is our prerogative. As far as Bangladesh is concerned, we are an open country, but no country would like any kind of interference in its domestic affairs, but we have worked with many countries for many years as they are our development partners and we listen to what they have to say,” he said, adding that Bangladesh has its own democratic system in place that has been shaped by its “history and socio-cultural factors”.