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Bangladesh PM Gets Global Support, Will Withstand Calls To Investigate Allegations

She dismissed questions about the fairness of the vote and said it was a “very peaceful election.”

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Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina interacts with journalists in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 31, 2018. VOA

Congratulatory messages are flowing to Bangladesh Prime Minister-elect Sheikh Hasina, ensuring she will withstand calls to investigate allegations of widespread serious irregularities in Sunday’s election that was dominated by her coalition.

Hasina is set to form her third consecutive government and fourth overall, and on Thursday figurehead President M. Abdul Hamid invited her to form a Cabinet. The new members of Parliament took their oaths on Thursday, though seven opposition members boycotted the ceremony. The new Cabinet ministers are to take their oaths on Monday.

International reaction to the allegations of irregularities was not clear initially, but the scenario quickly settled after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed the way and China followed, congratulating Hasina for the massive victory, in which her Awami League party-led alliance won 288 seats in the 300-seat Parliament. The opposition-led alliance had only seven seats.

Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Bhutan and Pakistan congratulated Hasina, while the United States and the European Union said they wanted to continue to cooperate with the government.

Bagladesh, election
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina gestures after casting her vote in the morning during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

After coming to power in 2008, Hasina cautiously began building strategic partnerships with India, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. She repeated that when she returned to power in 2014.

Bangladesh joined a 34-nation Islamic military coalition under the leadership of Saudi Arabia to fight terrorism and is building its first nuclear power plant with Russia and India. Hasina bought two submarines from China and invited Japan to invest in infrastructure development, especially in power plants.

Bangladesh also became a member of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is a potential rival to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The European Union is a big export market, especially for Bangladesh garment products. Bangladesh traditionally buys its regular military weapons from China.

The country earns about $30 billion a year from exports of its cheap garment products, mainly to the United States and European Union, and is the world’s second-largest garment producer after China.

China is Bangladesh’s largest import source, while India is the second largest.

Bangladesh, violence, election
An opposition BNP activist is being arrested by policemen in Dhaka. In 2018, thousands of opposition leaders and activists were arrested in Bangladesh on allegedly trumped up cases of political violence. VOA

“So we import from them and then we export to Western markets,” M. Humayun Kabir, a former Bangladeshi ambassador to Washington and an analyst in international affairs, said in an interview.

Bangladesh has other ties to the West beyond trade. “Value-wise we believe in democracy. So, we are also value-wise connected to them,” Kabir said.

European nations and the U.S. are also home to a large Bangladeshi diaspora. “These are people living in those countries becoming or contributing to those societies. So, this … is how we are connected to the Western countries,” he said.

In a statement issued after Sunday’s election, the U.S. expressed concern about “credible reports of harassment, intimidation, and violence” but said it wanted continue to work with Bangladesh.

“The United States remains deeply invested in the future of Bangladesh and its democratic development,” it said. “Bangladesh’s impressive record of economic development and respect for democracy and human rights are mutually reinforcing, and we look forward to continue working with the ruling government and opposition toward advancing these interrelated goals.”

Bangladesh, election
An opposition BNP activist is being arrested by policemen in Dhaka. In 2018, thousands of opposition leaders and activists were arrested in Bangladesh on allegedly trumped up cases of political violence. VOA

Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman congratulated Hasina for winning the election.

Analyst Kabir said during her 10 years leading Bangladesh, Hasina has built a successful relationship with influential and strategically crucial countries and has upgraded her image by hosting Rohingya Muslim refugees who were driven violently from neighboring Myanmar.

“Bangladesh is a good story in terms of development and progress,” Kabir said. And her solid election victory shows that Bangladesh’s economic development has the political support of voters, he said.

“So that story is now resonating well on the international community and that’s why we are seeing (so many countries) are congratulating the prime minister for the outstanding performance in the election,” he said.

Kabir said the international community wants to see Bangladesh as a stable nation. “We need to be more competitive for example, we need to do reforms in our labor sector for example, we need to also develop our infrastructure for example, we need to update our regulatory framework for example, because international investors always look at those issues, so now they’re looking at Bangladesh from a positive frame,” he said.

bangladesh, election
Salahuddin Ahmed, a Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) candidate for general election, is seen bleeding as he was stabbed on a election day in Dhaka, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

But Kabir said authorities should address the concerns of irregularities in the election.

More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence Sunday, and the election campaign was dogged by allegations of the arrests and jailing of thousands of Hasina’s opponents. The most prominent of those jailed is Hasina’s archrival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who was deemed ineligible to run for office because of a corruption case her supporters say was politically motivated.

The Election Commission and other departments were accused of overlooking complaints of irregularities. Ahead of the election, a new digital security law was enacted that raised concern it would curb speech and media freedoms.

On Friday, Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a briefing in Geneva that they were concerned about violence and alleged human rights violations in Bangladesh before, during and after the elections.

“There are credible reports of fatalities and numerous injuries on polling day alone. There are worrying indications that reprisals have continued to take place, notably against the political opposition, including physical attacks and ill-treatment, arbitrary arrests, harassment, disappearances and filing of criminal cases. Reports suggest that violent attacks and intimidation, including against minorities, have been disproportionately carried out by ruling party activists, at times with complicity or involvement of law enforcement officers,” Shamdasani said.

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Women stand in a line at a voting center to cast their ballot during the general election in Dhaka, Bangladesh, Dec. 30, 2018. VOA

New York-based group Human Rights Watch urged an independent investigation into the alleged irregularities. The U.S., the EU and the U.N. all expressed their concerns.

“International donors, the United Nations and friends of Bangladesh should remember that elections are about the rights of voters, not those in power,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a statement.

In Zia’s absence, opposition parties formed a coalition led by Kamal Hossain, a former member of Hasina’s Awami League who was foreign minister under Hasina’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh’s founding leader.

Hossain’s small party, Gono Forum, does not have much popular support. Hasina and Zia, on the other hand, have much larger support bases and attract hundreds of thousands of supporters to their rallies.

Also Read: Violence And Intimidation Directed Towards Rohingyas In Bangladeshian Camps

A day after the election during a briefing with foreign journalists and election observers, Hasina came down heavily on the opposition. She refused a suggestion that she offer her political foes an olive branch.

“The opposition you see, who are they? The main party, BNP, it was established by a military dictator (Zia’s husband, Ziaur Rahman) who introduced martial law in this country. There were no constitutional rights for the people,” Hasina said.

She dismissed questions about the fairness of the vote and said it was a “very peaceful election.” (VOA)

 

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Despite All The Efforts, Political Campaign Spends on Social Media Remain A Mystery

But even as the Election Commission has made social media companies follow certain norms, such as pre-certification of political ads to prevent misuse of the platforms, such measures are unlikely to bring adequate transparency to the whole process

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The Election Commission is in talks with the representatives of Internet companies, including social media platforms, on the use of social media for campaigning in the Lok Sabha polls while the Model Code of Conduct is in force. Pixabay

Despite all the efforts put in place by social media companies to show who is paying for the political advertisements on their platforms, the users may not know the actual amount spent to run political campaigns on these websites.

Facebook has a searchable database for political ads which anyone can access. This Ad Library report from the social media giant shows that Indians have spent over Rs 6.5 crore in over 30,000 ads related to politics since February 2019 — in the run up to the general elections.

Similarly, Twitter also has an Ad Transparency Centre which allows one to search which account has spent how much in the past seven days.

social media
“In terms of political ads, social media companies should allow only certified agencies to post ads. This would make the monitoring process much easier for everyone. Allowing any individual to post political ads complicates the monitoring process. This is a big loophole,” he said. Pixabay

While these efforts are being regarded as important steps towards bringing transparency in the political process, they may not reflect the complete picture of how the social media space operates, according to experts.

“Influencers play a very important role in political campaigns and 90 per cent of the transactions related to these campaigns are done through cash,” social media expert Anoop Mishra told IANS.

Knowing which party is spending how much on social media is important because much of what trends on Twitter or what becomes popular on Facebook – with potential to impact voter behaviour – may actually be due to the money and manpower of political parties while creating an illusion of organic support from hundreds and thousands of users in these platforms.

“Every political party including the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), Congress, Samajwadi Party and BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) are trying to push their agenda on social media. But those parties with greater money, manpower and tech expertise are likely to win the social media war,” Mishra said.

He added that political parties were employing a large number of people to make their propaganda material viral on social media.

twitter
Similarly, Twitter also has an Ad Transparency Centre which allows one to search which account has spent how much in the past seven days.
Pixabay

“In terms of political ads, social media companies should allow only certified agencies to post ads. This would make the monitoring process much easier for everyone. Allowing any individual to post political ads complicates the monitoring process. This is a big loophole,” he said.

“Encrypted platforms like WhatsApp could be used extensively to spread advertisements and propaganda, which could be difficult to be tracked,” added Prasanth Sugathan, Legal Director, Software Freedom Law Centre (SFLC.in), a Delhi-based not-for-profit legal services body.

Also Read: Report Claims, As Many As 1 Billion Indians Live in Areas of Water Scarcity
The Election Commission is in talks with the representatives of Internet companies, including social media platforms, on the use of social media for campaigning in the Lok Sabha polls while the Model Code of Conduct is in force.

But even as the Election Commission has made social media companies follow certain norms, such as pre-certification of political ads to prevent misuse of the platforms, such measures are unlikely to bring adequate transparency to the whole process. (IANS)