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US lawmakers to Pompeo

Take action on BD for polls allegations

14 February 2019 bdnews24.com

US lawmakers have described Bangladesh as having "a negative trajectory of democracy" in a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The foreign affairs committee of US Congress asked the State Department to share "an outline" of how it will be responding to allegations of irregularities during the recent general election.
"The allegations of widespread rigging and voter suppression must be taken seriously," the panel said. Bangladesh's Election Commission said the polls were legitimate.    
The US should demonstrate its "commitment to democratic institutions, beginning with Bangladesh" especially since elections in Afghanistan, the Philippines and Thailand will be held this year, said the committee chaired by Eliot L Engel, who represents a New York district.

"As you know, supporting democracy, rule of law, and human rights in the Indo-pacific region is critical to advancing to US interests, and reports of widespread irregularities in Bangladesh's recent elections seriously threaten those important interests," said the letter.
The committee claimed the election followed "violence, mass arrests and a crackdown on free speech," which it said was particularly worrying since Bangladesh has a "strong and proud democratic tradition".      
The Awami League headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has returned to power for the third consecutive term after the Dec 30 polls.
The opposition alliance, which comprises the BNP, has rejected the results citing vote rigging and intimidation. The BNP has been out of parliament since it sat out the previous general election.
After having won only eight parliamentary seats, as opposed to the Awami League's 257, the winners from the opposition unity, have since refused to take oath of office.
"The Awami League claimed 96 percent of the seats contested - more than the parties and its allies won in 2014, when a key opposition party boycotted the general election and the Awami League ran unopposed in more than half of the seats contested," said the House committee letter.
The lawmakers said reporters saw ballot boxes "suspiciously full" on the morning of the election. It also said Awami League agents of making up excuses to turn away voters.
"To make matters worse, the Government of Bangladesh failed to grant credentials and issue visas to most international election monitors, including those funded by the United States."  
The House committee's comment reflects an earlier statement issued by the US State Department, which criticised what it called "Bangladesh's inability" to issue documents to monitors from US-funded Asian Network for Free Elections or ANFREL.
Bangladesh had then responded saying that while it was welcoming to international observers, it also has the right of ensure that the applicants meet the required criterion as per the laws and guidelines of the Election Commission.
"In this context, the decision of ANFREL to cancel its observation mission is entirely their own despite the fact that, nearly half of its applicants have already been approved and the rest are under process," the foreign ministry in Dhaka had said.

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