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Foreign pressure mounting for mid-term polls?

  • Published at 06:48 pm August 8th, 2015

The government is facing fresh foreign pressure for holding mid-term polls, several policy-makers of the Awami League government have suggested, according to an exclusive report by Bangla Tribune.

Seeking anonymity, a number of influential ruling party leaders have reportedly told Bangla Tribune that internal discussions are going on in closed forums about this.

However, the government is unlikely to cave to the pressure, and is confident that it will be able to complete its full tenure up to 2019. The government has been using the militancy issue as a shield against the international pressure, and feels that this is a persuasive argument to not disrupt the status quo.

In addition, the government has also made it a point to communicate and broadcast its economic and development achievements to project a positive image among the international community.

US taking lead

Bangla Tribune reports that it has learned that the development partner apparently showing the most enthusiasm for a mid-term national election in Bangladesh is the US. And for this, the country is banking on India, which has very good relations with Bangladesh.

Sources also said that the Obama government wants to highlight the agenda of the meetings that special UN envoy Oscar Fernandez-Taranco had with the AL and BNP before the January 5 election last year.

One of the resolutions of those meetings was that the January 5 election was just a constitutional formality and there was a pledge for a mid-term election in the quickest possible time. However, because the BNP is now not in a strong position in the political arena, the government sees no need to show any flexibility in this regard.

India the conduit

Against this backdrop, a number of people from the policy-making level of the AL have admitted that several western countries have been trying to put pressure on the government through India.

At the same time, they have also communicated with conviction that there will not be any elections before 2017 at the very earliest, and that too only under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership.

India however has still not shown any interests about enforcing a mid-term election in Bangladesh.

All of the above has been confirmed to Bangla Tribune by two ministers and two secretaries of the ruling party, all of whom requested anonymity, but were willing to speak extensively off the record.

Senior leaders’ denial

But several senior leaders of the ruling party have rubbished all talk of international pressure as nothing more than rumour and gossip.

Suranjit Sengupta, a member of the Awami League advisory council, told Bangla Tribune: “What pressure are you talking about? It is true that there is pressure, but the BNP will have to fix its politics first. They will have to shun the path of militancy and extremism. If they can do that, then we will see. I do not think the US and the European countries will make the mistake of bringing a pro-militancy force to Bangladesh’s state power through election. There might be meetings here and there between people, but there is no way that an election can be squeezed out from somewhere.”

According to insiders, sensing the foreigners’ attitude, the BNP has recently started giving statements demanding mid-term election. This is a turnaround for the BNP after a break of about three months following a failed movement staged during the previous three months for the same demand.

The ruling party is also hopeful about completing its full tenure in light of the fact that the BNP organisational structure has been left in tatters due to its failed movement to agitate for mid-term polls.

The government has also assumed that the BNP would come to election in 2019, even if it is held under Sheikh Hasina. This is because two consecutive national election boycotts would result in cancellation of the party’s registration with the Election Commission and the BNP would not take that risk.

Suranjit admitted that during their meeting with Taranco, there was a pledge for holding a fresh election soon after the January 5 elections. The veteran leader was a member of the Awami League delegation in that meeting.

“It was said at that time ‘Let this election be held; then we will have another election.’ But BNP did not act in that line. They broke that condition by boycotting and trying to prevent that election. So, that issue was settled there,” Suranjit pointed out.

Awami League presidium council member Kazi Zafarullah said: “There is a rumour that there is international pressure on the government for a mid-term election. But I think this rumour is baseless.”

Another presidium member and also Health Minister Md Nasim said: “There might be different pressures at times. We also felt pressure when we executed the verdict against the war criminals. But Sheikh Hasina is not the kind of leader to bow to such pressures.”

Joint General Secretary Mahub-ul Alam Hanif said: “There is no possibility of any mid-term elections. Talk of international pressure is nothing but rumours.”

Word from New Delhi

Meanwhile, several South Bloc leaders have reportedly admitted that the US has been trying to implement its agenda in Bangladesh using India, but India’s stance regarding Bangladesh is very clear cut: “India believes that there is a democratically elected government in Bangladesh. India has never interfered with Bangladesh’s internal matters, and it never will.”

However, no matter what they say in front of television cameras, Indian officials have said off the record that it is true that the US wants to see a mid-term election in Bangladesh.

Washington has already requested New Delhi to talk to Sheikh Hasina about holding an election (that will have to be held long before 2019) in which parties including BNP will participate. This request has been forwarded through diplomatic and other channels.

The problem is, India itself is not convinced that Bangladesh now needs a mid-term election.

A source from the Indian foreign ministry said: “How would we try to convince someone about something that we ourselves are not convinced about? Moreover, we do not have anything to gain from a mid-term election in Bangladesh. In fact, Sheikh Hasina has managed to bring things under control to a great extent. Now there is nothing to lose if an election is held at the designated time.”

When contacted, the US embassy in Dhaka said in an e-mail message: “We continue to support an inclusive, participatory electoral process; however, the people of Bangladesh must decide the timing of any future elections.  We continue to call on all parties in Bangladesh to work within the political space.”

Ann B. McConnell, public affairs officer of the embassy, also wrote: “The United States enjoys strong bilateral relations with both Bangladesh and India and continues to work together to advance our shared regional and global objectives, including cooperation on democracy and governance, trade, and security cooperation.

“We also support democracy as a key element in promoting stability, security, and prosperity in South Asia and throughout the global arena.”