March 2, 2024, Saturday
Nepal 1:37:26 pm

EU may sanction if Bangladesh did not allow free election in 2024

The Nepal Weekly
November 28, 2023

– Mesbahuddin Ahmed, Bangladesh Trade Union activist

TNW: Can you briefly highlight the current political situation in Bangladesh?

On January 17, 2024 there will be Parliamentary elections in Bangladesh. And opposition parties including Bangladesh National Party (BNP) are demanding a caretaker government for holding free and fair election.They are asking the government to create a situation in which all the political parties can participate. That’s why they are demanding that the next election should be conducted under the caretaker government. Previous experiences show that under the present regime there cannot be free and fair election in Bangladesh. European Union and United States have announced for their intervention for conducting free and fair election in Bangladesh. USA and the European Union have indicted that they would impose sanction against Bangladesh government if the elections are not conducted in free and fair manner.

TNW: In your view which foreign power is backing the present Bangladesh government ?

So far as I know government of India is extending support to the present regime in Bangladesh. US Foreign Secretary who visited New Delhi recently expressed the view that present regime in Bangladesh is the ally of government of India and they want that this regime should not be disturbed.

TNW: What is the role of China in this regard?

The present regime in Bangladesh has also good relationship with China. Under the Belt and Road initiative China has invested a huge amount of money in Bangladesh for different development initiatives.

When was Seikh Hasina elected to power in Bangladesh for the first time?

The Awami League led by Seikh Hasina has continuously been in power since 2009 till now. They were elected for the first time in 2009 and then also got re-elected in 2014 and 2018. When Awami League got two third majority in the election, they changed many constitutional provisions in their favour. Here I want to put the recent political history of Bangladesh. When the military took power in 1990 the political parties took to the street. They reached an agreement to introduce parliamentary democracy and to make democratic institutions independent such as election commission, commission against corruption, commission for information, commission for human rights. Though Awami League was very strong party and people thought that it would come to power. But in the neutral election held at that time Bangladesh National Party (BNP) came to power with the support from rightist forces. And Awami and allies started agitation against it. They continued strike for a long time. They demanded caretaker government for next election. Then caretaker government was formed. Then Awamy League came to power in 1996. But it wanted to remain in the government. She then passed a law that she as a daughter of father of the nation should remain in the government’s official residence even after retiring from power and would get protection like the Prime Minister. But when the caretaker government came it abrogated all the privileges held by Hasina. Then after the election BNP came to power. In 2006 BNP tried to remain in power with the help of caretaker government. And the interim government with the support of army continued for two years. Because the country was in a weak situation as fighting continued between Khalida Zia and Seikh Hasina. Independent election commission, independent information commission, independent human rights commission were formed. Then in 2009 Awami League came to power with two third majority. Then they abrogated all the reformes made by the caretaker government. Through the court they made caretaker government illegal and imprisoned BNP leaders garnering support from pro-liberal forces. To remain in power Awami League also got support from Taliban, which means the teachers of Madrasa education. The madrasa has very good organization.

TNW:What is the role of military? Was it taking side of Awami League?

As you know the last election was won by Hasina with the help of the police. The bureaucracy and military were also in favour of Awami League. When Khalida Zia was in power military was with her. However, the UN has warned that the Bangladesh Army will not be kept as peace keeping forces, if they continued to support this illegal government. Then they went against the government.

TNW: What about democratic rights and freedom in Bangladesh?

THere is very much restrictions in the rights and freedom. If the newspapers go against the government it will not get support from the government. Because the newspaper owners are big industrialists and they will be finished if they go against the government. Businessmen supporting BNP will be harassed like income tax and all other things.

TNW:What is the role of military? Was it taking side of Awami League?

As you know the last election was won by Hasina with the help of police. THe bureaucracy and military were in favour of Awami League. When Khalida Jia was in power military was with her. However, the UN has warned that the Bangladesh Army will not be kept as peace keeping forces, if they continued to support this illegal government. THen they went against the government.

TNW: What about democratic rights and freedom in Bangladesh?

THere is very much restrictions in the rights and freedom. If the newspapers go against the government it will not get support from the government. Because the newspaper owners are big industrialists and they will be finished if they go against the government. Businessmen supporting BNP will be harassed like in income tax and all other things.

TNW: But you can go to the court if anything wrong done by the government. Isnt so?

Court is not independent here now. Because the justices are selected by the government. Mostly third division people without much practice are in judge. In Bangladesh democracy has not meaning, they the government is giving the slogan of development. They are building many things with Chinese money. That’s why people think that there is development going on. GDP has increased in Bangladesh. People feel better than before economically.

TNW: Are the people of Bangladesh happy with the present government?

They are happy to some extent. They are praising the development activities being carried out by the government. But they also want democracy. The present is harassing the people, just like in autocratic system. Corruption is rampant here. A person cannot sell their house without giving money to the local leader.

TNW: Bangladesh has graduated from LDC recently. It means the government has done better than before. Isnt so?

The present development you see in Bangladesh is with the help of development partners. European Union and USA buy Bangladesh clothes without any tariff. And that constitute 80 percent of our export. Another is expatriate workers working abroad. These are two major sources of foreign currency. But now from 2021 Bangladesh has to pay the huge loan they borrowed.

TNW: So, Bangladesh has also borrowed a huge amount of money from China like some other countries?

No, China comes in third position. The major loan providers are European Union and America. But China is also gradually coming forward. Now we don’t have much of dollar. Our businessmen are investing money abroad like Malaysia, Australia and America. Now, when I came to Nepal I could not buy dollar. The dollar I brought with me was kept in my home. Because, there is no sufficient dollar reserve in the government. Still Bangladesh has not become Sri Lanka but the situation is bad here.

TNW: So, what about the next election scheduled for January 2024?

This time, European Union and USA have said that if the government did not provide human rights and conduct free election, they will sanction against Bangladesh. They have warned to stop free access to Bangladesh in their market. The United Nations have also warned that if they took side with this government they would not allow the Army to go for peace keeping missions abroad. Peace keeping jobs are the major sources of income for the Bangladesh army. So, they are worried now.

TNW: In the next election do you think other parties like BNP will take part?

The opposition parties are demanding a caretaker government before election. They are not likely to participate in the election. Only smaller parties, who are backed by the Awami League will be contesting the election, so as to provide validity to the election.

(Mr. Ahmed, who is a trade union activist, writher and director at Ankur Prakashani was recently in Kathmandu to take part in a book exhibition at Bhrikutimandap.)