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US congressional committee urges action to protect democracy in Bangladesh

  • Published at 05:36 pm February 13th, 2019
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The US Capitol is pictured in Washington, US, November 13, 2018 Reuters

Foreign Ministry is informed about the matter and the top brass is considering next course of action, official says

A United States congressional committee has asked the Trump administration to take action in order to “protect democracy” in Bangladesh.

The Foreign Affairs Committee of the US House of Representatives, the lower chamber of the Congress, made the call in a letter sent to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday.

The members of the committee who signed the letter included it’s Chairman Eliot L Engel, the committee’s Ranking Member Michael T McCaul (R-TX), Asia and Pacific Subcommittee’s Chairman Brad Sherman (D-CA) and Ranking Member Ted Yoho (R-FL), and Representatives Andy Levin (D-MI) and Ann Wagner (R-MO), according to a press release posted on the committee’s website on Tuesday.

In the letter, they highlighted reports of election fraud, improper vote rigging and voter suppression during Bangladesh’s 11th general election, held on December 30 last year, and urged the State Department to take action.

The Awami League had won the 11th general election in a landslide, amidst opposition’s allegations of massive vote rigging and irregularities.

Led by Sheikh Hasina, Awami League has formed the government for a third consecutive term last month.

When contacted, a senior Bangladeshi diplomat told the Dhaka Tribune that the Bangladesh Embassy in Washington has informed the Foreign Affairs Ministry about the matter and the top brass is considering next course of action.

“We are gravely concerned by the negative trajectory of democracy in Bangladesh and request an outline of how the Department intends to respond to this trend, particularly in light of serious allegations that the outcome of the December 2018 elections lacked credibility,” read the letter. 

“As you know, supporting democracy, rule of law, and human rights in the Indo-Pacific region is critical to advancing US interests, and reports of widespread irregularities in Bangladesh’s recent elections seriously threaten those important interests.

“Bangladesh has a strong and proud democratic tradition, so we were particularly dismayed that the campaign leading up to the election was marred by violence, mass arrests, and a crackdown on free speech,” it said addressing Pompeo. 

The letter added: “The Awami League claimed 96 percent of the seats contested -- more than the party and its allies won in 2014, when a key opposition party boycotted the general election and the Awami League ran unopposed in more than half of the seats contested.”

It went on to say: “Although the government-appointed Election Commission has claimed the election was legitimate, we believe the allegations of widespread rigging and voter suppression must be taken seriously.”

“According to press accounts, when polls across the country officially opened, reporters found that some ballot boxes looked suspiciously full. There are reports that Awami League activists barred some people from voting, claiming that the polling stations were closed for lunch or had run out of ballots. Some voters were even told their votes had already been cast,” read the letter.

It further stated: “To make matters worse, the Government of Bangladesh failed to grant credentials and issue visas to most international election monitors, including those funded by the United States.”

“There will be a series of elections taking place this year in Asia, including in Afghanistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. It is crucial that the United States demonstrate its continued commitment to and respect for democratic institutions, beginning with Bangladesh,” the congressional committee members told Pompeo, adding: “We look forward to your timely response.”