Foreign observers hail Bangladesh elections as free and fair

DHAKA: Foreign observers, including those from the US, Canada, Russia, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab Parliament, have termed the just-concluded general elections in Bangladesh as free, fair, and peaceful. The observers praised the election process in Bangladesh, with one of them pointing out that the caretaker government system over which the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) boycotted the polls was anti-democratic.
“It’s been a very fair and free process for people walking in. There’s a lot of good security and a very transparent process,” said Shaoquett Moselmane, an Australian observer.
“I found the election to be very peaceful, free, and fair,” state-run BSS news agency quoted Jim Bates, a former US Congressman, as saying at a press conference at the end of the polling on Sunday.
Incumbent prime minister Sheikh Hasina‘s Awami League won 223 seats in the 300-member Parliament.
The government invited a large number of foreign observers from India and other as well as multilateral organisations to observe the elections amid the opposition boycott.
The turnout in Sunday’s election was 27.15 per cent at 3:00 pm, but after voting closed at 4:00 pm, the Election Commission estimated the final tally could stand at around 40 per cent, a 13 per cent jump in an hour.
The observers visited different polling centres in and around Dhaka as well as adjacent districts.
Some of them even visited the polling centres before the start of voting at 8 am to check ballot stuffing.

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Andrey Y Shutov from the Russian Election Commission, CEO of the Central Election Commission of Palestine Hisham Kuhail, Mohamadou Musa Njie of the Gambia High Commission, Scottish MP Martyn Day, head of the election unit of the OIC Shakir Mahmood Bandar, member of Arab Parliament Abdihakim Moalliam, executive director of South Asia Democratic Forum Paulo Casaca, Members of the Canadian Parliament Victor OH and Chandrakanth Arya, among others, shared their experiences.
However, none of them spoke about any irregularities.
“Elections in Bangladesh have the shortest voting hours, from 8 am to 4 pm, compared to other countries of the world,” he said, adding that the voting hours in many countries stretch up to 9 pm from the morning, while in California the voting starts one month before the polls.
South Asia Democratic Forum Executive Director Paulo Casaca said the electoral process was “very good, marvellous and magnificent” in Bangladesh.
He said Bangladesh was taking the process of democracy much further than any other country.
Paulo Casaca is a former Portuguese member of parliament and member of the European Parliament.
He also said that the caretaker government system only exists in Pakistan.
“In Bangladesh, it was also used. But fundamentally this is anti-democratic,” he said.
“Democracy is, of course, a choice. Of course, it’s polarisation, but it cannot be toxic polarisation. The choice was taken out by your main opposition by not showing up,” he said when asked about the opposition boycott.
“But what is the alternative? It’s a coup d’état. Is this a good thing? Is the dictator and coup d’état the best alternative to low turnout?” he said when asked about the low turnout of voters.
CEO of American Global Strategies Alexander B Gray, sharing his experiences after visiting 10 polling centres, said: “I saw with my own eyes that the election was free and fair, and professionally administered, having a high degree of enthusiasm from the voters, polling staffs and others concerned.”

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He said not a single voter or anyone expressed their concerns and complaints to him.
“This election met the highest standards of democratic accountability and professionalism and I’m very much convinced that the Election Commission has operated professionally and with integrity,” he said.
Member of the Central Election Commission of the Russian Federation Shutov said the voters were very active in Bangladesh and thus all candidates and voters were involved in the political process.
“These determined people can decide the future of this country and it makes us think that this election is legitimate”.
Shutov said he was impressed by the openness and transparency of the election, while each voter got all the information about polls.
“This election was open and transparent and we think that the electoral system in Bangladesh is efficient. Bangladesh has a long tradition of elections… the political process of Bangladesh is developing stably,” he said.
Chandrakanth Arya, an Indo-Canadian Liberal politician, said that a record number of over 1,900 candidates representing some 28 political parties took part in the election, where all the contestants had free access to people and there was no hindrance in campaigning on their behalf.
“We would like to congratulate the Election Commission for conducting a very free, fair and successful election. I would like to recognise and commend the excellent work of the election commission in marshalling all the government institutions of the state in delivering a free, fair, peaceful and successful election,” he said.
He termed the BNP election boycott “tactical or strategic” and said the decision of the opposition political party was in their interest. “It’s not our job to comment on the judgment of that decision.”
“The election process was free, so we accepted it,” he said.
Martin Day, an MP from Scotland, said the polling process was “very smooth and quite impressive” although the voter turnout was a bit low.
Hisham Kuhail of Palestine said: “What we saw today is a good voting process on a voting day… nobody forces anyone to vote.”
He also observed that the election process was “quiet and peaceful”.
“There was efficient use of available resources, the presiding officers were competent, while the participants were very happy with the voting process,” he said.
Shakir Mahmood Bandar from the OIC congratulated the government for the “successful” holding of the elections.
“Till now the election is being conducted fairly,” he said after 5 pm, when the counting was still going on.
Separately, Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen on Sunday said that whether the people of the country supported the election was the big issue, not the stance of Western countries.
“Why do you worry so much about nations in the West? Do you lack self-confidence? The most important point is that the government was elected by the people,” he said, replying to a question after he met with some foreign observers.
The question of Western recognition came up as the major opposition party BNP boycotted the polls.
The US last year announced a visa policy to ensure free and fair elections in Bangladesh, but Russia called the US measure an interference.
“We believe in the people,” Momen said, adding: “When we got independence in 1971, did the Western world support us?”
“Whether the people of the country supported it or not is a big issue. I am not interested in what a foreigner says, I believe in what our people say,” the Dhaka Tribune quoted Momen as saying.
He also expressed gratitude to the people for casting votes in a hostile environment.
“They set fire to the train and killed people. There was panic. But people voted for us. They supported us in this hostile environment.”
Asserting that there was no rigging in the election, the foreign minister said that there were no fake votes anywhere. “The election was free, fair, and acceptable.”
The Election Commission has taken appropriate steps, he said.
“No one can say that the vote has already taken place,” he said, adding that a foreign observer went to a polling centre at 6 am when there were no people there.
“I heard they went so early in the morning to see whether anyone was stuffing the ballot box in the dark of night… very surprising.”
He said the foreign observer team also discussed the issues of the BNP with him.
He said: “The bitterness that has been created with the opposition party, they want to know what we think about reducing the bitterness in the future.”
“They have only one issue…the prime minister must resign. Is there any such method in the world?” Momen said, asking if Biden would resign in America before the election.

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He said the BNP was making the excessive demand deliberately so that there was no opportunity for any kind of discussion.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday secured a record fourth straight term as her Awami League (AL) party won an overwhelming majority in the general elections marred by sporadic violence and a boycott by the main opposition BNP and its allies.
Hasina, 76, also the president of Awami League, won the Gopalganj-3 constituency in a landslide victory, her eighth term as a Member of Parliament.
Hasina, who has been ruling the strategically located South Asian nation since 2009, secured a record fourth consecutive term and fifth overall term in the one-sided election, which witnessed the second-lowest turnout since the restoration of democracy in 1991.
With this win, Hasina is poised to become the longest-serving prime minister in Bangladesh since independence.
Former premier Khaleda Zia-led BNP, which boycotted the election and observed a strike on election day, said the party plans to intensify its anti-government movement through a peaceful public engagement programme from Tuesday as it dubbed the polls as “fake”.
The BNP boycotted the 2014 election but joined the one in 2018. This time, they boycotted the polls. Fifteen other political parties also boycotted the election.
Ahead of the elections, Hasina’s government arrested tens of thousands of rival politicians and supporters, a move which rights groups have condemned as an attempt to paralyse the Opposition.
Hasina went for a tight-fisted seat-sharing with the Jatiya Party and other allies and invited all her party leaders and activists to join the race as independent candidates to make the election look participatory and competitive.
As Bangladesh steps into this new term under the Awami League’s governance, the reshaping of the Opposition poses critical questions about the future of the country’s parliamentary dynamics and political balance, bdnews newspaper said. Source

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