Will not participate in election without caretaker government, BNP tells Indian envoy

The BNP’s demand for an interim government, reported by a Bangladeshi paper, may indicate a lack of confidence in the election commission of Bangladesh and the present government

Published - March 17, 2023 10:23 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Supporters of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) take part in a rally in Dhaka

Supporters of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) take part in a rally in Dhaka | Photo Credit: AFP

The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the chief opposition party of Bangladesh, will not participate in the country’s upcoming general election without first having a caretaker government. This message was communicated to the Indian High Commissioner Pranay Verma by a six-member BNP team whom he hosted for a dinner in Dhaka on Thursday, according to Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star, which has cited BNP sources to report that the leaders spoke clearly about their requirement for a transparent election. 

“We have made our position very clear about the next election and movement. We did not keep any room for any ambiquity,” a senior leader of the BNP told The Daily Star. A source from Bangladesh told The Hindu that the meeting was a sign of “diplomatic activity” to ensure an “inclusive election” in Bangladesh.

The BNP participated in the 2018 election, winning six seats in the Jatiya Sangsad or the National Parliament. The party had boycotted the 2014 election, and had won 30 seats in the 2008 election.  

Poll in spotlight

Thursday’s dinner organised by the Indian High Commissioner is being described as a “courtesy” by diplomatic sources from Dhaka. The BNP team at the dinner was led by Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir and included BNP standing committee members Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain and Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury, vice-chairpersons Abdul Awal Mintoo and Nitai Roy Choudhury, and organising secretary Shama Obayed. The dinner hosted by Mr. Verma for the BNP leaders has drawn attention as it came days after the U.S. envoy to Dhaka, Peter Haas, had called for a free and fair election in Bangladesh later this year.

Over the last several months, there has been an increased focus on the election as Bangladesh has emerged as the second largest economy in South Asia, after India. That apart, Dhaka is also important from the point of view of the rivalry between China and the Quad member countries, that is, the U.S., Japan, India and Australia. Earlier this year, the newly appointed Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang had a two-hour stopover in Dhaka on his way to Africa. That Mr. Qin chose Dhaka as the first foreign capital to stop at indicated the growing importance of the Awami League-led Bangladesh. Its Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been a vocal critic of western intervention in the internal affairs of countries in the Global South and has not extended her support to western initiatives during the ongoing Ukraine crisis.  

‘Regular outreach’

A month after the Chinese foreign minister’s visit, on February 15 and 16, Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra visited Dhaka and met Ms. Hasina. The Bangladesh PM is expected to visit Delhi in September for the G-20 meeting, as Bangladesh has been invited as one of the “guest countries”. 

The Ministry of External Affairs has not responded to The Hindu’s questions regarding the content of the meeting between Mr. Verma and the BNP team, though it has been learned that the Indian side perceives this meeting as part of its regular outreach to “all stakeholders”. 

Lack of confidence

The Awami League government has been saying that it wants the election to be free and fair, with Ms. Hasina personally assuring U.S. representatives that she wants the election to be fair. However, the BNP’s demand for an “interim government” could pose a fresh challenge as it would indicate a lack of confidence in the election commission of Bangladesh and the present government. 

Though the relevant stakeholders were eager to describe Thursday’s dinner as “routine”, it needs to be viewed in the context of a recent advertisement in support of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, a staunch critic of the Bangladeshi PM. Ms. Hasina had criticised the advertisement in an interview to leading journalist Farid Hossain saying, “Why should an advertisement be given begging names of 40 people for a person who is so famous and a Nobel Prize recipient? That again is in a foreign newspaper.”

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