Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Election rigging - the international community response?

So far political leaders from China, India and Bhutan have congratulated Sheikh Hasina and the Awami League government for "winning" the election - without any of them mentioning the widespread allegations of election rigging before and after the Sunday poll.

India is Awami League's closest ally, and so its unconditional support for the government after the election is far from suprising. China is not interested in the fairness or otherwise of elections. And Bhutan is too small to matter.

Western liberal democracies have not yet given their views on the Bangladesh election - and what they have to say, in particular the will both be both fascinating and significant. 

In 2014, the opposition did not participate in the election, and as a result over half of the seats were uncontested. There followed the publication of some highly critical statements from governments - many calling for new elections.

In summary - see here and here for full statements - the following governments/institutions called for or supported new elections;
- the US stated that the "elections do not appear to credibly express the will of the Bangladeshi people" and encouraged the government to hold "to hold as soon as possible elections that are free, fair, peaceful, and credible."  
- Canada stated that it welcomed "the major parties’ willingness to consider holding a new national election and urges all parties to reach an agreement soon that would allow the next election to be truly participatory, with results that all Bangladeshis will see as credible." 
- the Commonwealth said, "[I]t is critical that Bangladesh moves quickly to find a path forward through dialogue to a more inclusive and peaceful political process in which the will of the people can be fully expressed." 
- Australia stated"The government and the opposition must take up their shared responsibility to hold a new, fully contested and transparent election as soon as possible." 
- The German government stated that it "noted with regret the circumstances surrounding the parliamentary elections in Bangladesh. These elections are an extremely poor reflection of the electorate’s will. ... [It] urges the Bangladesh Government and all political parties to overcome their differences in the interest of the country and to work together to bring about inclusive, peaceful and credible democratic elections."
- The United Nation's statement also called on the political parties "to resume meaningful dialogue and to urgently address the expectations of the people of Bangladesh for an inclusive political process."
Other governments - the UK, and France, for example - raised concerns but did not call for new elections.

How will these governments and institutions respond to the election held on Sunday in which the opposition did take part but where there have been allegations of widespread and significant rigging, both before and during the election day. Clearly the governments could turn a blind eye to the rigging, rely on the extraordinary exonerating observer mission statements (ignoring all the other evidence of rigging) and congratulate the government on winning the election. 

However, if they did that, their credibility in the eyes of the opposition parties, the country's non-partisan civil society and wider Bangladesh society would sink very low. One of the few mantras western democracies have consistently uttered in Bangladesh - whilst their general interest in human rights in the country has declined - is the need for "free and fair elections", and if they fail to criticise what has happened on Sunday they will be seen as highly unprincipled.

Another question is how far can these government/institutions criticise the Bangladesh government and what they can they call the government to do? Can they suggest the establishment of a judicial inquiry into the election complaints? Or can they request that the Election Commission undertake inquiries into all complaints made to it? Or  even - though highly unlikely - propose a re-run of the election? 

In recent years, the Western international community has been very reluctant to criticise the Bangladesh government - in the context of its actions against islamic militancy and its support for the Rohingyas - iand t is difficult to see, even were they to criticise the election, that they would push the government too far.

Yesterday's United Nation's statement treads a line of acknowledging "the reports of irregularities" yet only encouraging "the parties to address electoral complaints in a peaceful manner and through legal means." 

Pretty weak, but this may well be the template followed by others. Lets hope not.

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