Free fair elections imperative for democracy US Congress

first_imgnonameThe ruling party in Bangladesh is undemocratically stifling the voice of dissent and opposition. It is steadily become authoritarian. Under these circumstances, it is imperative that the elections in December are free, fair and credible.These views were expressed at a briefing on Bangladesh affairs by the US Congress Human Rights Commission in Washington on Thursday. The briefing on the upcoming elections and human rights situation in Bangladesh was jointly organised by the commission co-chair Randy Hultgren and James McGovern.Speakers at the briefing expressed their concern about political violence and prevention of free speech in Bangladesh. They said the present government had taken certain measures to uphold religious freedom and minority rights. They also lauded the generosity of the Bangladesh government and people for providing shelter to one million Rohingya refugees.The discussion was conducted by senior programme officer of the research institute National Endowment for Democracy, Mona Dave. She said the discussion was extremely relevant as Bangladesh was fast heading towards the election. Many analysts were of the view that the ruling party was growing increasingly authoritarian. They were resorting to undemocratic means to stifle the voice of dissent and the opposition. She said that it was imperative that the next elections be free, fair and credible in the interests of democracy.The National Democratic Institute and other institutions have come up with several recommendations in the interests of a credible election. They have said that the government must not interfere in the election commission’s functioning and also allow local and foreign observers and media persons to carry out their work without any obstruction. They said the law enforcement agencies should work with neutrality. The recommendations also included allowing the opposition parties to campaign freely and to bring an end to the arrests and cases being filed against them.Designated speaker John Sifton, Asia advocacy director of the US-based human rights organisation Human Rights Watch, said that Bangladesh was passing through a crisis. After Awami League won in two consecutive elections, the country was virtually under a one-party rule. The opposition parties were in fear, with large numbers of their leaders and activists behind bars. There was also strong control over the information system.John Sifton said that given the culture of fear and violence that prevailed in Bangladesh, there was no reason to believe that the election would be free and fair. He also expressed his concern that the opposition leader Khaleda Zia was behind bars.Sifton went on to say that the US government was not in a position to do much about human rights, but the Congress could take decisions that would have an impact on Bangladesh. This could include delimitation of defence cooperation, direct sanctions and imposition of taxes.During the question and answer session, deputy head of the Bangladesh embassy in the US, Mahbub Saleh, said that the government hadn’t sent Khaleda Zia to jail, it was the the court that had sentenced her. He also said that foreign observers were welcome to monitor the coming election.*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabirlast_img

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