Foreign diplomats in Dhaka have once again become very active in the political arena, frequently meeting with the Election Commission to discuss the next national elections in Bangladesh.
During the meetings, they “assured the commission of assistance” to hold a fair and participatory election.
Though the BNP has welcomed such activity of diplomats, ruling Awami League and its allies termed it as interference in the internal affairs of the country.
Several foreign envoys had met the newly formed commission and discussed the issue of the next national election.
Ambassador of Norway to Bangladesh Sidsel Bleken and Swedish Ambassador Johan Frisell met the chief election commissioner on March 12.
And then Indian High Commissioner Harsh Vardhan Shringla paid a courtesy call on the CEC on May 18.
US Ambassador to Bangladesh Marcia Stephens Bloom Barnicat went there on May 31, UK envoy Alison Mary Blake on June 6, and most recently UNDP Country Director Sudipto Mukerjee met the CEC on June 11.
UN Resident Coordinator Robert Watkins is scheduled to meet the CEC on June 20.
Before the reformation of the Election Commission in January, the envoys of six countries including the US and UK had sent a letter to the foreign ministry seeking appointment to meet the president for holding talks on EC reformation.
But the president did not meet them, dubbing the EC reformation a very internal affair of the state.
Though the meetings with the CEC were courtesy calls, the main agenda of the discussions was the 11th parliamentary elections.
It is learnt that the diplomats, during the meetings, wanted to know the government’s initiatives towards the process of the 11th national elections and plans to face the challenge of holding a fair election.
They told the CEC that they want no more repetition of the elections of January 5, 2014 and February 15, 1996. The Election Commission also agreed with that observation.
The lawmakers of ruling Awami League and its allies criticised the diplomats’ frequent meetings with the Election Commission and their discussion on national elections, dubbing it foreign interference in Bangladesh’s internal affairs.
Lawmaker Tahzeeb Alam Siddiqui, who recently joined the Awami League, told the House that the US ambassador’s comment on Bangladesh’s election was a violation of political norms.
Drawing attention of the Election Commission, Tahzeeb said: “How can a foreign citizen meet so easily with a person who is holding a constitutional position?”
He also criticised the role of journalists who “eagerly wait for comments from the diplomats” after the meetings.
Workers’ Party President Rashed Khan Menon said: “A new conspiracy is going on centring the election. Foreign diplomats have become active and standing beside them, Khaleda Zia and the BNP leaders are demanding election-time special government.
“But the concept of a neutral government is not mentioned in the constitution. The election will be held as per the constitution.”
The politburo members of the Workers’ Party in a meeting on Friday and Saturday expressed grievances over the foreign intervention.
Meanwhile, BNP sees the foreign envoys’ position on Bangladesh’s election as a positive.
Party Vice-Chairman Shamsuzzaman Dudu told the Bangla Tribune: “Awami League and some of its close allies are trying to dub the diplomats’ discussions with the Election Commission as ‘political intervention’ as they do not want a free and fair election.
“We can pay our respect to the foreigners for their contribution in the Liberation War. Then why cannot we take their recommendations positively? Why are we not considering them as development partners, instead of taking them only as foreigners?”
Saying that no country can operate alone without the help of other countries, the BNP leader said: “I think the foreigners are giving suggestions with a view to holding a free and fair election. It is better not to term it as interference in internal affairs.”
Regarding the matter, Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif told Bangla Tribune: “Bangladesh is an independent and sovereign country. Making comments on Bangladesh’s election is unwarranted.”
He said everyone expects that the Election Commission will work independently.
“It is good that our development partners take an interest on our internal affairs. They can give any recommendation on election or on strengthening the Election Commission. But in their over-enthusiasm, they are intervening in several matters that are beyond diplomatic norms.”
Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujon), told Bangla Tribune: “Those who are terming it as interference in internal affairs had once upon a time sung a different tune. We do not have any information that those who met the chief election commissioner had been interfering in our internal affairs.”
Regarding the matter, Election Commission Secretary Mohammad Abdullah told Bangla Tribune: “The commission is an independent institution. It cannot avoid anyone interested to meet with its commissioners. It is a routine work.
“They [diplomats] had paid courtesy calls on the new commission. During the meetings, they discussed elections and forwarded some recommendations. They did not say anything that would appear to be interfering in internal affairs.”