This was originally published in New Age on 13 November 2013
Legitimacy of govt after boycotted polls likely to be ‘questioned’: Chabot
The chair of the Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee on Asia and the Pacific in the United States House of Representatives has told New Age that the legitimacy of an Awami League government would likely be questioned if it wins an election without the main opposition party taking part.
Steve Chabot, a US congressman for 17 years was speaking exclusively to New Age in a one-on-one interview last week at the end of the first day of his two-day trip to Bangladesh where he met the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, and the opposition leader, Khaleda Zia, as well as other government and opposition leaders.
In the interview, the congressman also raised questions about the trials held at the International Crimes Tribunal, stating that the more he got to know about the process, ‘I question more and more the fairness of them and the way they are being carried out.’
In relation to the elections that are due to be held by 24 January 2014, the congressman, speaking on behalf of his committee and not the US government, said, ‘We urge the parties to hold dialogue in good faith and come to some reasonable agreement, that both parties can buy into, and hold open elections and one side does not think it necessary to boycott elections.’
‘[If there was a boycott] I think that would certainly not be a good outcome, and some would question the legitimacy of the government I think if you went forward with elections without a party,' which recent polls, he said, showed had the support of over half the voting population.
‘I am not saying that they are necessarily right to boycott the elections either,’ he added.
On the issue of the apparent difference in the thinking between the United States and India on the election, he said, ‘Sometimes we agree with India and sometimes we don’t. India is a good ally. Relations with India are good and getting better.’
Media reports have stated that Indian government is more inclined that the United States to accept elections without the participation of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party.
Speaking about the International Crimes Tribunal, which was established by the current government in 2010 to prosecute those alleged to have committed crimes against humanity during the 1971 war of independence, the foreign affairs committee chair said that he thought, ‘The reputation of Bangladesh is on the line.’
‘I think we want to see free and fair and transparent, credible trials, particularly when considering capital cases where death penalty is not only a possibility but seems to be almost the default verdict here,’ he told New Age.
Chabot, who had practiced law for 18 years before being elected to Congress said that his committee agreed that those who had committed atrocities should be held accountable even if they were committed 40 years ago.
‘But when those trials are being carried out, they ought to be carried out in a free, fair and credible manner and it is very questionable whether that is current right now,’ he said.
Ten men have so far been convicted by the tribunal, eight of whom have received a sentence of death.
He added that earlier in the day he had met law and justice minister Shafiq Ahmed and foreign minister Dipu Moni and ‘they were insistent that the trials were being carried out with the utmost care’ and ‘were consistent with international and domestic standards.’
‘That was their position, very strongly held position,’ Chabot stated.
In a subsequent press meeting on Wednesday, the congressman pointed out that there were instances where ‘the prosecution and the government and the court [are] essentially talking about cases and making statements that question whether they are viewing [the accused] as innocent until proven guilty.’
He also stated that ‘there are certain cases where prosecution can call dozens of witnesses and the defence only a few.’