The Bangladesh government has responded to the newly announced US visa restrictions by stating that it is committed to holding free and fair elections.
“Bangladesh would like to view [the announcement of these restrictions] 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,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Thursday.
“Under Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, Bangladesh remains a democratic and politically stable nation with experience of holding a series of elections at national and local levels.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a new US immigration policy on Wednesday, restricting visas for Bangladeshi individuals ‘believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh’.
The restriction applies to current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services.
Actions that fall under this restriction include vote rigging, voter intimidation, the use of violence to prevent people from exercising their right to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, and the use of measures designed to prevent political parties, voters, civil society, or the media from disseminating their views, according to the State Department statement.
The foreign ministry in Dhaka said Bangladeshis are conscious of their democratic and voting rights and there is no precedent for a government to continue in office after usurping the people’s mandate through vote rigging.
“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 said.
The government is also pursuing electoral reforms, such as the issuance of photo-based voter ID cards and the use of transparent ballot boxes, in consultation with ‘all concerned stakeholders’, the statement said.
“The National Election Commission continues to be equipped with the wherewithal to carry out its functions in full independence, credibility and efficiency,” it added.
The government is also ready to take any necessary measures to “prevent and address any unlawful practices or interference by any individual, group or entity to compromise the smooth and participatory conduct of the elections.”
The election will also be under the monitoring of international observers, the government said.
“The government expects that the local undemocratic forces that resort to violence, arson and destruction would remain cautious and refrain from their misguided efforts to jeopardize the electoral process as mandated by the Constitution. It is entirely up to the people of Bangladesh to sustain the hard-earned democratic process, political stability and development gains in the country.”
The statement also touted the achievements of the Awami League government.
“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. This resulted in the 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.”
“Now an international role model for development, Bangladesh has become eligible for graduation from the UN Least Developed Country status by 2026. These have been achieved due to the Awami League government being elected to office for three consecutive terms over the last fourteen years.”