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US visa policy supportive to PM’s pledge for free, fair polls: FM

Published : 26 May 2023 01:44 AM | Updated : 26 May 2023 01:44 AM

Bangladesh on Thursday said the new US visa policy was supportive to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s commitment for credible elections as Washington overnight issued a pre-emptive warning to impose visa restrictions against individuals who would hinder fair polls in the South Asian country. 

“The new US policy rather made our position stronger to hold the election in free and fair manner,” foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told a media briefing expressing Dhaka’s reaction to his US counterpart Antony Blinken’s announcement on Wednesday.

He said the “policy is good, nothing to worry about it” adding it mounted no extra pressure on Bangladesh government while Dhaka’s relations with Washington remained excellent.

The foreign minister expected the new US visa policy would make cautious opposition political parties not to wage any violence over the elections as “this visa restriction is not only for ruling party, but for the opposition as well”.

He said the government did not want arson, violence and destruction.

 The United States on Wednesday said it would restrict visas to Bangladeshis who undermine elections, in a pre-emptive warning visibly fearing mount of turbulence in the upcoming vote expected in early January 2024.

   “Today (Wednesday), I am announcing a new visa policy under . . . of the Immigration and Nationality Act to support Bangladesh’s goal of holding free, fair, and peaceful national elections,” Blinken said in a statement.

   He added the policy would enable the United States “to restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh”.

  The US secretary of state said the move was aimed to “support Bangladesh’s goal of holding free, fair, and peaceful national elections” and would target either pro-government or opposition supporters in the deeply polarised nation.

The announcement came as main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has been waging a campaign to restore an election time non-party caretaker government to oversee elections saying no polls under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s administration would be fair.

BNP also vowed not to take part in any election under the incumbent Awami League-led government.

The US state department, however, last week said Washington was not concerned about participation of any particular party in Bangladesh's next elections but it wanted the polls to be fair and held in a congenial environment

The secretary of state said the United States was supporting “free, fair and peaceful national elections” and the policy would target either pro-government or opposition supporters.

Momen said his US counterpart had informed him about the new visa policy weeks ago when Blinken lauded highly Sheikh Hasina’s commitment to hold a free and fair election.

“This policy support Prime Minister Hasina’s stated commitment to hold free and fair election in Bangladesh and allow the US to act when Bangladeshi citizens or officials from all political parties undermine the critical demand of democracy,” Momen quoted a Blinken letter addressed to him, as saying.

   Momen said Awami League always “believes in voters”.

   In his yesterday’s announcement, Blinken said the policy includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services.   

      “I am announcing this policy to lend our support to all those seeking to advance democracy in Bangladesh,” he said.

   Foreign office statement

   Momen’s briefing came shortly after his foreign ministry issued a statement saying Bangladesh government took note of the US announcement on “a visa restriction policy pursuant to the so-called 3C provision under the US Immigration and Act”.

   “Bangladesh would like to view this announcement in the broader context of its government’s unequivocal commitment to holding free and fair elections at all levels for upholding the country’s democratic process,” it said.

   The statement said under the incumbent premier Bangladesh remained a democratic and politically stable nation with experience of holding a series of elections at national and local levels.

   “The people’s right to franchise is considered a state sanctity by the Awami League government that has a political legacy of unrelenting struggles and sacrifice for securing that right. The government attaches importance to freedom of assembly and association for all peaceful and legitimate democratic processes,” it read.

    The foreign office said the electoral reform process in Bangladesh continued in a consultative manner involving all stakeholders and as part of the process, photo-based voter ID cards were issued in response to the 10.23 million fraudulent voters enlisted by the past BNP-led government.

   The statement said the use of transparent ballot boxes has also been made the norm to establish confidence among the electorate as well as the polling officials and agents.

   “The National Election Commission continues to be equipped with the wherewithal to carry out its functions in full independence, credibility and efficiency”.

    The statement said "as mandated by the Bangladesh Constitution and Representation of the People Order, 1972, the entire executive machinery will remain at the Election Commission's disposal to assist in the discharge of its responsibilities in a way as it may direct".

   The foreign office said Bangladesh’s people were very much conscious of their democratic and voting rights and “there is no precedent for any government to continue in office having usurped people’s mandate through vote rigging”.

   “Since the general elections in 2008, it is evident that the people of the country experienced unprecedented socio-economic development and empowerment due to continued political stability under the Awami League government,” it read.

   The statement also gave statistical description of developments saying Bangladesh saw reduction of headcount poverty from 41.5% in 2006 to 18.7% in 2022, and of extreme poverty from 25.1% to 5.6% during the same period.

  It said Bangladesh now emerged as an international role model for development ans earned its eligibility for graduation from the UN Least Developed Country (LDC) status by 2026 which were “achieved due to the Awami League government being elected to office for three consecutive terms over the last fourteen years”.

   “The government (however) appreciates that the international community including the US firmly stands by Hon’ble Prime Minister’s sustained commitment to ensure free and fair elections,” the statement read.