The US has urged political parties in Bangladesh to engage in dialogue without preconditions in efforts to hold free, fair and peaceful elections.
The American ambassador in Dhaka, Peter Haas, is going to sit with the big three - the Awami League, the BNP and the Jatiya Party - to present his country’s four-point stand regarding the general election.
Stephen Ibelli, a spokesperson for the US embassy in Dhaka, said in a statement on Monday: “Ambassador Haas has requested meetings with senior officials in all three major political parties to underscore the US position regarding the upcoming elections.”
The four points mentioned in the statement included a call for unconditional discussion among the parties.
The points mentioned in the statement are as follows:
The United States wants free and fair elections conducted in a peaceful manner and calls on all sides to eschew violence and exercise restraint.
The United States does not favour any political party over the other.
The United States urges all sides to engage in dialogue without preconditions.
The United States will continue to implement its 3C policy in an even-handed manner against those who undermine the democratic election process.
LETTER TO JATIYA PARTY
Haas visited the Jatiya Party office on Monday and handed a letter from Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of State for the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, to party Chairman GM Quader.
Haas said the same letter was sent to all three parties -- the Awami League, the BNP and the Jatiya Party, according to Jatiya Party Secretary General Secretary Mujibul Haque Chunnu.
“The summary of the letter is that the US government wants a free, fair and participatory election in Bangladesh. Besides our chairman, Co-Chairman Kazi Firoz Rashid and I were [present in the meeting]. He [Haas] spoke with us for about 40 minutes.”
Asked whether the discussion touched on the ongoing political situation, Chunnu said: “We don’t know what their statement is. We spoke about many unofficial matters and exchanged views, but nothing notable to mention.”
On what significance this letter bears, he said: “The US is our development partner. Our trade, including garment products exports, is worth $6 billion in the US alone. We have trade and development ties.
"They can want free, fair elections but how the election will be held is our own matter. We don’t tell anyone else but the government and the Election Commission to organise a free, fair election.”
On whether Haas asked anything about Jatiya Party’s participation in the election, he said: “No, he didn’t want to know anything about that. We didn’t want to say either. It entirely depends on us. Why should he say anything about that?”
“The Jatiya Party will hold a meeting of its Executive Committee, which will involve district presidents and secretaries of the party from around the country. We will listen to what they have to say and then will call a meeting of the highest policy-making forum Presidium if needed.”
“Then we’ll decide whether we’ll participate in the election or not. We’re completely prepared to take part in the election. We’ve already carried out primary tasks on who our candidates will be. Now we’ll see what the party leaders and policy-making forum has to say. We’ll also check how the environment is.”
WHAT AL AND BNP SAY
Awami League Joint General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said they were yet to receive details about the letter.
On whether the ruling party would respond to the call for a discussion, he said: “I’ve no idea about why he [Haas] is calling for a discussion among parties. And we’ve not received any such letter. We can’t make any comment unless we get the letter.”
Following the violent clashes in Kakrail and Bijoy Nagar on Oct 28 surrounding the BNP’s rally, many top leaders of the party landed in jail, while others are in hiding with law enforcers on the hunt for some.
Asked about the possibility of a discussion with other parties, a BNP Standing Committee member said: “The BNP leaders are in jail. So there’s no avenue for a meeting.”
THE DEEP DIVIDE
With the announcement of the election schedule approaching, the Awami League and the BNP are standing at polar positions with no apparent signs of efforts towards reaching an understanding.
Human rights activists and political analysts have called on the ruling and opposition parties to reach a middle ground in the interest of the people.
Before BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir landed in jail on Oct 29, he said a discussion can only be held once the government accepts the BNP’s demand for a non-partisan caretaker government.
The ruling party’s response was talks without any conditions.
But since clashes between the BNP activists and the police on Oct 28 in Dhaka, the opposition bloc has enforced consecutive general strikes and blockades with the relevance of a discussion almost lost.
The international community, including the United Nations, sent representatives to end political hostilities in Bangladesh before the sixth general election of 1996, the ninth election of 2006 which was cancelled and the 10th boycotted by the BNP in 2014. But it all ended in failures.
Ahead of the 2014 election, the BNP-Jamaat coalition took to the streets to demand the restoration of the caretaker system.
At that time, United Nations Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco paid a visit to the country in an effort to clear out political animosities. Besides the Awami League and the BNP, he spoke with ambassadors of Western countries and representatives of India and Russia during his visit.
However, his attempt also failed as the election was boycotted and marred by conflict and violence.
This time around, the United States declared a separate visa policy for Bangladesh saying anyone obstructing a proper election will not get visas for a trip to the country, along with members of their families. The US has also said it will do “whatever necessary” it can for a free and fair election in Bangladesh.