US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken on Wednesday announced a new visa policy for Bangladeshi individuals believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process. The individuals who fall under this policy include current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services, Blinken said in a statement.
The actions to be treated as disqualification for a US visa include vote rigging, voter intimidation, the use of violence to prevent people from exercising their right to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, and the use of measures designed to prevent political parties, voters, civil society, or the media from disseminating their views.
The US Embassy in Dhaka also gave clarification on the issues related to the new announcement. The embassy says it is a general practice to notify individuals whose visas are revoked or cancelled. It states that the US does not support any particular political party. Restrictions under this new policy target individuals engaging in behavior that undermines the democratic election process, regardless of affiliation.
“The United States supports free and fair elections everywhere. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government have committed to supporting free and fair elections in Bangladesh. We welcome the Prime Minister’s expressed commitment to holding free and fair elections.” This policy is designed to support these efforts and the Bangladeshi people, so they may hold elections to choose their leaders.”
Even if individuals commit offences after following orders from higher levels and it is difficult to link higher-level decision-makers to those carrying out orders, the policy will apply to anyone undermining the democratic election process.
Bangladesh’s stance towards the new US visa policy
On the new visa policy of the United States, Bangladesh says that due to this policy, undemocratic forces will stay away from violence. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded to this in a statement on the visa policy on Thursday (May 25) morning.
Apart from the statement, Bangladesh also praised the support given by the whole world, including the United States, to Sheikh Hasina’s commitment regarding fair elections. The Bangladesh government has taken note of the US Secretary of State’s announcement regarding the visa restriction policy under the so-called 3(c) provision of the US Immigration Act, the statement said.
Bangladesh wishes to see this announcement in the larger context of the government’s unequivocal commitment to conduct free and fair elections at all levels to uphold the country’s democratic process. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh is a democratic and politically stable nation with experience of holding consecutive elections at the national and local levels. In a statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the people of Bangladesh are very aware of their democratic and voting rights.
There is no precedent of any government staying in power by taking away the verdict given by the people through vote rigging. The right of the people to vote is considered by the Awami League government as a national sanctity for which there is a political legacy of relentless struggle and sacrifice. The government attaches importance to freedom of assembly and assembly for all peaceful and legitimate democratic processes. The electoral reform process in Bangladesh is being conducted in a consultative manner with all stakeholders involved. Photo-based voter ID cards were issued as part of the process. Transparent ballot boxes are being used to instill confidence among voters as well as polling officers and agents. The National Election Commission is structured to perform its functions with full independence, credibility and efficiency. The present government for the first time took the initiative of enacting the Chief Election Commissioner and other Election Commissioners Act-2022. According to this law, a new election commission has been formed. As mandated by the Constitution of Bangladesh and the Representation of the People Order, 1972, the entire executive structure will be under the control of the Election Commission to help it discharge its duties.
In view of that, government structures will take necessary measures to prevent and counter interference by any person, group or entity in the fair and participatory conduct of elections, the statement said. The electoral process will be closely monitored by the International Observers accredited by the Election Commission. The government hopes that the local undemocratic forces who indulge in violence, arson and destruction will remain vigilant and desist from their misguided attempts to jeopardize the constitutionally mandated electoral process. It is entirely up to the people of Bangladesh to sustain the hard-earned democratic process, political stability and development achieved in the country. The government appreciates that the international community, including the United States, stands firmly behind the Prime Minister’s sustained commitment to ensure free and fair elections.
International strategy to developing countries
However, even though we are trying hard for peace in the world, for a long time, wars, killing people, oppression, women and children torture, human trafficking, loss of life in immigration are making us worried. Developed countries have not calmed down by erecting walls across national boundaries, they are trying to make the poor and oppressed people more civil by adopting various international strategies. The developed world, which worships democracy, does not exert pressure on rich countries in the process of civilizing them in the same way as it has a strong position on poor countries. Our freedom is not being undermined by the way diplomats are active in the case of Bangladesh? Are this responsibility only oppressed people?
Doesn’t government believe in free and fair election?
Election is the strongest pillar of democracy. In a democratic polity, people run the state through their representatives. Only elections can make these happen. In case there is no election and no elected representatives of the people, there will be none to serve the interest of the masses. Without a system of election, there can be no true democracy. Election is the only way to come to power or bring change as the politics of terror and violence in the name of movement can never be beneficial for the country, society and economy; rather, it makes the political atmosphere chaotic.
Negative politics of some political parties during election period
People now understand that the negative politics of some political parties. Countrymen also know who carried out bomb, grenade and bullet attacks, smuggled in 10-truck arms and misappropriated the money of the public and the orphans. Perhaps, the question of a ‘free and fair election has the least to do with the process considering the legal boundary and constitutional binding. The existing perception may take that only a party wants a free and fair election and hence demands a caretaker. But it is a wrong perception politically considering that AL as a political party also echoes the same. The debate among these largest parties is therefore only on the process.
‘Free and Fair Election’ takes place under incumbent governments all over the world. Even Bangladesh’s closest neighbor, India also follows it whose internal politics are similar to Bangladesh’s. But there is no debate about such. Hence, it has nothing to do with fairness. Unfair and irregularities can also take place under the caretaker system if the caretaker decides to side with any political party. At this moment, politicians and their parties know very well that the only path towards breaking the deadlock is through negotiation that benefits the nation and the common people. The demands and capabilities regarding elections are bargaining chips in this negotiation.
Bangladesh’s efforts to organize a free and fair election
Thus, a deadlock exists in the political arena. Election under an unelected government is impossible without amending the Constitution. The majority in parliament sees no reason for constitutional amendment and are not willing to entertain such an idea. Under the circumstances, there is a strong possibility that forces favouring election under poll-time administration will boycott elections, which is not desirable at all in a democratic system of governance. We expect that they will shun the path of election boycott and take part in it to make democracy meaningful. And without participation of all – a free, fair and participatory election will remain a chimera.
The political forces that demand elections under a poll-time administration clearly apprehend that the likely elections will not be free and fair under the incumbent government. But our reading is that there is no ground for such an apprehension. Actually, nothing less than a fair poll is acceptable to the people. The Election Commission is independent and strong enough to ensure voting rights of the people. It has the requisite power to hold elections without interference from the incumbent.
Had PM Hasina any other intention, she would not have requested the Commonwealth to send election observation teams:
Moreover, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has on several occasions reiterated her commitment for fair polls. During talks with the UK Foreign Minister, Hasina expressed her belief in Westminster type of democracy and made it clear that her government is determined to hold fair polls. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Wednesday said the next general election in Bangladesh will be held in a free and fair manner upholding democracy and voting rights of the people. So, under government, definitely election will be free and fair, she told a session titled in conversation with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the Qatar Economic Forum (QEF) at the Raffles Hotel here. Had she any other intention, she would not have requested the Commonwealth to send election observation teams comprising of representatives of its member countries. We are hopeful about an end to the culture of election boycott, once and for all.
Why Continuous pressure of the USA!
Since its establishment in 1971, Bangladesh has faced various international pressures. The pressure was reduced for some time. But it is being pressed again. What can be the way to get rid of this? Those in the opposition coalition will say – hold an election with a caretaker government, the problem will come down to near zero. Many commented that the government must be worried about the new US visa policy. Rather, all political parties should be concerned about this. The new visa policy announced by the United States wouldn’t not disturbing the Bangladesh government at all, as the government is committed to giving the people a free and fair election. The parties who violated the election law and vandalized properties should be concerned about this. Any kind of violence before or after the elections will rather hinder their visas.
A positive outlook at the new US visa policy for Bangladeshi citizens
We should look positively at the new US visa policy for Bangladeshi citizens. The US government’s visa policy can help Bangladesh in its efforts to ensure that no one can undermine the commitment and position on fair elections through incitement.
Vested interest at the Bangladesh case!
No one cares whether the government of Bangladesh is elected or unelected. If elections were the main issue, they would be focused on ending the existing monarchies in the Arab states. The statements of those who wrote in the inquiry why attention is not paid to the people are convincing.
The contribution of developed countries to the fact that Bangladesh is moving forward is undeniable. After those imposing restrictions on us one after the other is a matter of deep thought. It may be wrong to think that this is a result of lobbying or lobbying by the opposition parties in the country. Fair, free and peaceful election is the only reason for imposing all those restrictions? Is a free, fair and peaceful election enough for the development of Bangladesh? The attention of those who are established as intellectuals in our society is absolutely desirable here so that the government does not make any big mistake under pressure. In a statement yesterday, the university’s teachers’ association said – they want a free, fair and peaceful election. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she also wants fair elections and the next elections will be held under the ruling government as elections are held all over the world.
Bangladesh might be able to thwart conspiracy
It appears to me that no one can come to power by creating suffering for the people. If the caretaker government is to achieve the freedom of vote and rice, it is possible only by standing by the suffering of the people. Bangladesh hopes that the United States will remain a true friend of Bangladesh. I want to think about my problem and try to solve it instead of spending time trying to figure out why the restrictions are imposed by them. The aim of politics should be people-oriented – not diplomat-oriented. We need to be more tolerant and have a unity among honest people.
It is the dream of all of us that Bangladesh will move forward and Bangladesh will stand tall in the court of the world. The onus is on the government to come out of the way foreign diplomats are engaging.
(Author Roy is a Bangladeshi national currently studying as Ph.D. candidate in refugee affairs at Griffith University in Queensland.)