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BNP leaders in New York: Is the party seeking UN support for polls?

  • Published at 11:34 pm September 12th, 2018
A view of the United Nations headquarters during the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly September 19, 2017 in New York AFP

The delegation led by Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir-led kicks oof the visit less than a week before the start of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly on September 18.

A senior BNP delegation arrived in New York yesterday amid speculation the main opposition party may be seeking the UN secretary general’s support as a mediator ahead of the Bangladesh parliamentary election in December.

BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir Fakhrul and executive committee member Tabith Awal flew from Dhaka to New York City by Emirates Airlines at 1:40am Wednesday morning.

Their visit begins less than a week before the start of the 73rd United Nations General Assembly in the city on September 18.

BNP Joint Secretary General Syed Moazzem Hossain Alal claimed Fakhrul has travelled to New York “following an invitation from the United Nations secretary general.”

In March, the BNP sent a letter to Antonio Guterres, seeking his support as a mediator between the main opposition parties and the ruling Awami League to help ensure a participatory election in Bangladesh.

“The UN usually holds many sideline meetings out of its formal sessions where people can attend as observers as well,” Alal said. “Our secretary general Fakhrul will attend some sideline meetings out of the UN general meeting.” 

Alal, however, did not specify what meetings Fakhrul will be attending.

BNP Vice-Chairman Abdul Awal Mintoo also confirmed Fakhrul’s departure to New York on Wednesday, but said nothing more could be revealed right now. “We will disclose the details after the team returns to Dhaka,” he said.

BNP standing committee member Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury also said the same.

It is assumed that the BNP leaders will attend a UN event while in New York, but nothing has been made public by party officials. Shairul Kabir Khan, a member of BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia's press wing, said he cannot disclose what business will be done in New York.

Commentators believe the party might be looking to win support from the United Nations after the party’s recent week-long tour to India failed to bring any fruitful results.

Three BNP leaders – BNP Standing Committee Member Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury, Vice Chairman Abdul Awal Mintoo, and International Affairs Secretary Humayun Kabir – visited the neighbouring country from June 3 to 10. 

They held meetings with three well-known Indian think-tanks on the India-Bangladesh relationship and the political situation in Bangladesh ahead of the parliamentary election due to be held by the end of the year.

At a meeting with Indian think-tank Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), Khosru highlighted the sharp political polarization between Awami League and BNP, who are yet to find any common ground on facilitating fully participatory elections.

The BNP leader hoped that an “enabling situation” would be created to ensure free and fair elections. 

The UN reiterated its position on national elections in comments made in late February by the spokesman for UN secretary-general Guterres.

“As a matter of principle, we would like to see free and fair and open elections everywhere they are held,” Stephane Dujarric told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.

The UN’s active engagement in the upcoming parliamentary elections in Bangladesh would be nothing new. 

Ahead of the 2014 elections won by Awami League and boycotted by BNP, UN assistant secretary general for political affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, visited Dhaka to mediate between the two parties. 

He met with Awami League, BNP, the Election Commission, civil society leaders and diplomats in ultimately unsuccessful talks. 

The then UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon also wrote letters and made phone calls to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and BNP chief Khaleda Zia, urging them to hold a credible election.

This time around, Sheikh Hasina has already ruled out any possibility to hold dialogue with BNP, the arch-political rival of her party.