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Diplomatic interest in election at its peak: Opportunities and challenges

by tbhdesk

Govt in state of unease
Open to talking to different countries
Not appreciate foreign diplomats talking to media

The 12th parliamentary election is around the corner. As always, foreign diplomats have been showing keen interest in the election and making public statements on the democratic process. The highly-charged activities of foreign diplomats has put the government in a state of unease. It has said the over-zealous interest in the election process is tantamount to a violation of the Vienna Convention.

The government’s view about the diplomatic interest is that it is open to talking to different countries and listening to their opinions and suggestions. But it does not appreciate foreign diplomats expressing their feelings to the media and issuing public statements about democracy or the election.

In the last couple of months, the ruling party and the opposition have had a series of meetings with diplomats of different countries and discussed with them issues related to the election, democracy, human rights and civil liberties. Some ambassadors and foreign officials had meetings with influential ministers and foreign ministry officials. Representatives of international election monitoring organisations such as NDI and IRI visited Bangladesh and had the opportunity to meet the top brass of the government. Citizens are now closely observing the activities of foreign diplomats and statements issued by different embassies.

Different governments and international organisations have expressed their interest and concern during the last two elections. In 2013, the then United Nations assistant secretary-general, Oscar Fernandez Taranco, came to Dhaka on a mediation mission. Former Indian foreign secretary Sujatha Singh suddenly arrived in Dhaka and had a series of meetings with the leaders of all political parties. In 2018, similar interest and concerns were expressed by some governments.

After the recent visit of US-based election monitoring organisations NDI and IRI, a statement was issued where they mentioned several challenges in holding free, fair and peaceful elections. The statement put forward five recommendations, which were subscribed to by the US administration.

US Ambassador Peter Haas along with 12 other envoys a few months ago issued a statement on the Dhaka-17 by-election, when some miscreants attacked one candidate – YouTuber Hero Aom. The US envoy this week met Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal and enquired about the October 28 political rally.

There are different views about the activities of Western diplomats, especially the US envoy. Some think that the envoys are violating the Vienna Convention while others have liberal views.

Former high commissioner to India Tariq A Karim said: “There is nothing wrong that diplomats take interest in elections in a host country and it is part of normal diplomatic tasks. But the diplomats need to maintain a fine line. The fine line is between the diplomats inquiring about what is happening, but refraining from making comments or indulging in acts which may be interpreted by the host government as interference in its internal affairs.”

Citing an example, he said: “For the Bangladesh Ambassador to the USA, it will not be appropriate to make comments, let’s say, on the plight of indigenous people in America. Similarly it can be the case for Australia. I can talk about it off-the-record or in quiet discussions with academia or others, but I will not go public, unless I want to take a tough stance with the government.”

Former ambassador to the US Humayun Kabir has a different view. “We interpret the situation as one of diplomats interfering in our affairs. But we have to remember that now democracy is not only a concept, but also relates to the global public good. We should not judge the Vienna Convention only by word, we need to take its spirit into consideration.”

The election in 2008 was highly appreciated by the US and EU and they had a hope that Bangladesh would move forward in improving its democratic structure and make it sustainable, he said, adding: “Bangladesh did not meet these expectations during the last two elections and as such they have come to the conclusion that the democratic and electoral process was affected and they became concerned. They are trying to engage more actively to help us to overcome it.”

Clause 41(1) of the Vienna Convention stipulates that “….it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State”.

When asked about it, Foreign Secretary Masud Bin Momen recently said the government is ready to respond to any query from friendly countries or developing partners. ‘’We are also open to listening to any opinion or suggestion from them. But we have reservations if they speak publicly and express their opinions through the media.’’

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md Shahriar Alam recently said that the diplomats this time have become active long before the election. They were not so active before the 2018 election. Only they could explain their objectives and reasons for their activities.

Source: Dhaka Tribune.

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