Despatch from Dhaka | International

Bangladesh election under new scrutiny

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina casting her vote at a polling station in Dhaka on December 30.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina casting her vote at a polling station in Dhaka on December 30.   | Photo Credit: -

The dust was about to settle with the election fever dissipating in Bangladesh. The political scene was slowly returning to an atmosphere of relative calm. Then came a damning report from the Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) that uncovered “serious wrongdoings” during the December 30 election.

The list of irregularities in 47 out of 50 constituencies surveyed by the TIB includes ballot stuffing in the hours to the election day, fake votes and obstruction of voters.

The TIB also said security forces on the scene silently stood by when these irregularities took place. “Law-enforcement agencies, a section of administrative officials and election authorities were seen playing biased roles in the election,” Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of TIB, who uses one name, said in a statement on January 15.

Information Minister Hasan Mahmud swiftly dismissed the report as fictitious, imaginary and deliberate. Mr. Mahmud said the report reeks of propaganda by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ally, Jamaat-e-Islami. The Election Commission also brushed aside the TIB’s findings. “It’s a predetermined and imaginary report,” Election Commissioner Rafiqul Islam said.

A new report says activists from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League stuffed ballot boxes the night before the general election and intimidated voters while security officials stood by

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has a record of solid achievements for her two consecutive terms. Per capita income has grown by 150%, and the proportion of people living in extreme poverty has fallen from 19% to 9%. “All the greater the pity that her achievements have been offset by a precipitous slide toward authoritarianism,” The New York Times wrote in an editorial on January 14. “Ms. Hasina’s every achievement will now be tainted by her authoritarian methods and repressive measures; her critics, driven into exile or underground, will become only more strident, and her foreign supporters more wary,” it wrote.

Then on January 22, a report published by Reuters put the election under new scrutiny. The report cited a top official of an observer group that monitored the election and one of its foreign volunteers as saying that they regretted participating in the process. Both cast doubt on the credibility of the vote. Mohammad Abdus Salam, the president of the SAARC Human Rights Foundation, was quoted as saying that he now believed there should be a fresh vote after hearing accounts from voters and officials presiding over polling booths that activists from Ms. Hasina’s Awami League stuffed ballot boxes the night before the poll and intimidated voters.

‘False story’

A Canadian observer, Tanya Foster, who was brought in by the foundation, has also said she now wishes she had not been involved. The foundation later issued a statement denouncing the Reuters story. It said the news agency distorted what Mr. Salam said in the interview. “I have been defamed by the publication of the false story and I’m embarrassed,” he said on the foundation’s website. Reuters later said: “We stand by our reporting on the views expressed by the election monitors.”

Ms. Hasina’s political foes ratcheted up their rhetoric over the election based on these reports. BNP leader Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said in a media briefing on January 17 the government and the Election Commission were hit hard by the TIB report. “They have received a big blow from the TIB report. The Ministers and the EC are now struggling to hide their faces as the TIB has exposed vote frauds,” Mr. Rizvi said.

The criticism of the election will probably go away with time, but it came as a huge contrast to the celebrations in the victors’ camp. It similarly dismayed the friends of the ruling party, who also face unsavoury questions.

Arun Devnath is a journalist based in Dhaka, Bangladesh

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 7:26:58 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/bangladesh-election-under-new-scrutiny/article26100569.ece

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