US, UK say Bangladesh elections extending Sheikh Hasina’s rule not credible

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The United States and the United Kingdom said the elections that extended Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s rule were not credible, free and fair.

Both countries, which have trade and development ties with Bangladesh, also condemned political violence that preceded Sunday’s election in which Hasina’s party won more than two-thirds of the parliamentary seats while turnout was low and the main opposition party boycotted.

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“The United States remains concerned by the arrests of thousands of political opposition members and by reports of irregularities on elections day. The United States shares the view with other observers that these elections were not free or fair and we regret that not all parties participated,” State Department spokesperson Mathew Miller said from Washington.

He urged Bangladesh’s government to credibly investigate reports of violence and hold those responsible accountable.

The UK said the democratic standards were not met consistently in the lead-up to the election.

“Democratic elections depend on credible, open, and fair competition. Respect for human rights, rule of law and due process are essential elements of the democratic process.

These standards were not consistently met during the election period. We are concerned at the significant number of arrests of opposition party members before polling day,” the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said in the statement.

The US statement said it remains “committed to partnering with Bangladesh to advance our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, to supporting human rights and civil society in Bangladesh, and to deepening our people-to-people and economic ties.”

Bangladesh is an important partner of the US interest in the Indo-Pacific region along with neighboring India amid growing influence of China.

China, Russia, India and some other countries congratulated Hasina for the victory and pledged to continue to partner with the South Asian nation.

The statements came after Hasina said at a news conference Monday that the elections were free and fair.

Her ruling Awami League won 222 seats of 299 contested. Independent candidates took 62, while the Jatiya Party, the third largest, took 11 seats and three smaller parties got 3 seats. The result in one seat remained undeclared. The election of one seat was postponed because a candidate died.

The main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party led by former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and its allies boycotted the election, and voter turnout was a low 41.8 percent. While election day was relatively calm, a wave of violence preceded the vote.

Zia’s party said more than 20,000 supporters had been arrested since October 28 when an anti-government rally turned violent in Dhaka. The government disputed the figures and said arrests were for specific charges such as arson and vandalism.

Bangladesh has a history of political violence, military coups and assassinations. Hasina and Zia governed the country alternately for many years, cementing a feud that has since polarized Bangladesh’s politics and fueled violence around elections.

This year’s vote raised questions over its credibility when there are no major challengers to take on the incumbent.

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