Main opposition party BNP is of the view that sending observers will be “meaningless” for external organisations such as the European Union, if the upcoming national polls in Bangladesh were “non-inclusive.”
However, the party was at the receiving end of an election boycott by international observers in 2007. The preparations of that election, which never took place in the end, were marred by widespread protests by other political parties.
The international polls observer missions in late 2006 withdrew as the then interim government, amid huge street violence, was arranging polls which all the political parties except the BNP and its allies had announced to boycott.
In 2007, the then European Commission Ambassador to Dhaka Stefan Frowein said the 2007 elections were called off not because the Awami League, then the opposition, had threatened to boycott the polls, but because it was an “one-sided” one.
As of 2013, despite repeated calls from diplomats, foreign governments and the United Nations, ruling Awami League and opposition BNP have remained adamant with their stances of holding polls without dissolving parliament and staying away from polls unless they are held under non-partisan administration respectively.
While the ruling party seems determined to hold elections as per constitution, that is under a partisan government, the prevailing air in the country hints at a sense of uncertainty over the fate of the next polls and the imminent worsening of the overall political situation.
“Monitoring of any election by the EU or for that matter by any other external organisation, where the major opposition party does not take part in, will be totally meaningless since a non-inclusive election does not have any credibility whatsoever,” BNP Standing Committee Member Abdul Moyeen Khan told the Dhaka Tribune.
A visiting delegation of the EU on Wednesday said the organisation would only send observers to the polls if all political parties took part in it.
“The observers want to ensure free, fair and inclusive elections. It would be unfortunate if they [EU] end up deciding not to send observers. That would automatically raise eyebrows about credibility in the international circles if a major organisation like EU does not send observers,” former chief election commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda told the Dhaka Tribune.
Osman Farruk, adviser to the BNP chairperson, told the Dhaka Tribune: “It is entirely up to the EU to decide about sending observers if the elections are one-sided. All we have done during our meeting with the EU delegation was making our grounds clear. We have told them that we would not contest polls under any partisan government. The elections will automatically come under questions if a major party like BNP does not take part in it. If the ruling party wants to put the ball inside an empty post, what would then be the role of the observers? They mainly come to observe whether the elections are held fairly or not.”
Abdul Moyeen Khan, also a former minister, said: “The issue of election monitoring is in fact a very sensitive matter. It may be noted here that even our neighbouring country does not allow any monitoring of their general elections by external observers.
“In a way, allowing external players to monitor our general elections badly undermines the ability and credibility of our own election commission as well as our whole governance system.
“To be frank, a lot of this liability lies with our major political parties as well; in the sense that we have not been able to create an environment where there is trust between them,” Khan added.
The five-member EU delegation which is currently in Dhaka on a 15-day visit, is holding a series of meetings with various stakeholders, including the election commission and the political parties, to assess the feasibility of sending an Election Observer Mission during the next general elections.
On September 10, the visiting EU delegation met BNP leaders at the party chairperson’s Gulshan office. Standing committee member MK Anwar led the BNP team while EU Ambassador to Dhaka William Hanna led the EU team.
While jointly briefing journalists on the topics covered in the hour-long meeting, Hanna said: “This is part of the mission being able to prepare an assessment whether it will be useful for the EU to observe the next general election. So there is no confusion that this stage is very much exploring. We’re trying to understand what the situation is and what the context is.”
MK Anwar told reporters: “We have tried to bring to their notice the problems about the election if it is held under the current government. They have also recognised the problems and we have tried to explain to them that under the existing constitutional arrangements, the prime minister, the ministers and the MPs will remain in their positions during the elections. This cannot happen because it will not ensure a level playing field during the elections.”
About 150 observers from the EU monitored the last parliamentary elections held in December 2008.