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Bangladesh's streets quiet for a short term: It's "not well" for the future of the country

By Syed Mujtaba Hussian*
The 11th General elections in Bangladesh were held on December 30, 2018. The result was an overwhelming victory for the Awami League-led by Sheikh Hasina. For the first time in a general election Bangladesh made use of electronic voting machines but only in a limited scale. The elections were marred by violence and claims of vote rigging, in response of which the Bangladesh Election Commission said it would investigate reported vote-rigging allegations from across the country.
Prior elections which were held under caretaker governments between 1991 and 2008, no winning party ever won more than 48 percent of the votes. But In this election, the winners secured more than 90 percent of the total votes cast, which as per media reports raises serious doubts over the transparency and fairness of the polls.
As per UN reports around 380 members of minority groups were attacked in the first half of 2018 and security forces reportedly arrested and intimidated opposition figures and dissenting voices. UN experts expressed grave concerns about the rise of religious fundamentalism and the negative impact on human rights, including the right to life, the right to participate in cultural life, freedom of expression, and freedom of religion or belief.
While addressing the issue, UN Special Rapporteur for cultural rights Karima Bennoune said: “The increasing restrictions on freedom of expression, combined with election-related violence and the rise of fundamentalism, have together created a climate of fear in Bangladesh." Experts have also voiced concerns at the use of surveillance, intimidation and politically motivated prosecution of prominent opposition members.
The 2018 Bangladesh election violence was a series of brutal attacks mostly on opposition party candidates and clashes between the ruling and opposition party men. According to UN human rights experts, from December 9 to 12, a total of 47 such incidents of violence were reported, in which eight people were killed and 560 were injured.
The victims of violence include former ministers, parliamentarians, veteran freedom fighters and senior leaders from the opposition alliance. At least 70 candidates from the opposition alliance Jatiya Oikya Front claimed that they did not even participate in the campaign in fear of attacks.
The Human Rights Watch in its bulletin titled "Bangladesh: Crackdown as Elections Loom" claimed, "Bangladesh security forces have been arresting and intimidating opposition figures and threatening freedom of expression in advance of national elections." On January 3, 2019, the Human Rights Watch called for an investigation on attack on members of the opposition party on and before Bangladesh elections.
According to Kamal Hossain, leader of the Jatiya Oikya Front alliance, no less than 100 candidates were allegedly attacked by the Bangladesh Awami League (BAL) men throughout the country. Even the leaders who were not taking part in the election were attacked in the daylight with police standing as spectators.Even women leaders were not spared.
The United States Department of State issued a statement on December 21, 2018 that the United States government is disappointed with Government of Bangladesh's refusal to grant visa for the observers of Asian Network for Free Elections. The British Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field, MP, in a statement urged everyone in Bangladesh to refrain from further violence.
A joint statement by 15 international election observers, including the Asian Human Rights Commission and the International Federation for Human Rights, termed the electoral environment of Bangladesh ahead of 2018 election "undemocratic".
In response to all this criticism, the prime minister rejected her critics in an interview in December with "The New York Times", claiming that only urban elites were concerned about the right to criticize her government freely or assemble for protests. She went on to say that the opposition was pursuing an anti-government agenda and inciting violence. She said , “If I can provide food, jobs and health care, that is human rights I know my country, and I know how to develop my country."
International media like "Al-Jazeera" while covering the elections, have also reported that over the past decade, judicial appointments from the lowest to the highest courts have been made along party lines. In 2017, Surendra Kumar Sinh, the sitting Chief Justice of Bangladesh, was forced to resign and leave the country when he acted out of sync with the party line.
Such subjugation of the judiciary allowed arbitrary arrests and political detentions in the lead-up to the latest election. Police recruitment has also been done along party lines, rendering the police force an easy tool of political suppression. Recruitments for the civil bureaucracy, including the election commission, are also going through a partisan process where about 30 percent of all government jobs are statutorily allocated to the children of "freedom fighters", a loosely defined group of men who fought for Bangladesh's independence some 47 years ago”.
Reportedly, what happened on December 30 clearly shows that Bangladesh has officially become a one-party state of an exotic variety, This new wave of oppression, exploitation will likely keep Bangladesh's streets quiet for a short term and all this is not well for the future of the country.
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*Human right defender. Contact: jaan.aalam@gmail.com

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