‘Dummy’ candidates, coerced voting: Inside Bangladesh’s election ‘charade’

3 months ago 45

Dhaka, Bangladesh – Hasanul Islam Ador, an elected typical successful a agrarian country successful confederate Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district, was taken aback erstwhile a radical of officials successful plain apparel barged into his location past week.

Ador said the officers threatened him, saying helium should halt campaigning for Zafar Alam, an autarkic campaigner for the nationalist predetermination to beryllium held connected Sunday.

Alam is simply a existent subordinate of parliament representing Cox’s Bazar for the ruling Awami League (AL) party, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

When Alam failed to unafraid his party’s information for this year’s election, helium was asked by the enactment enactment to tally arsenic an autarkic contender – 1 of what analysts and critics accidental are hundreds of alleged “dummy” candidates propped by the enactment to marque the predetermination look escaped and fair.

Bangladesh ElectionA ruling enactment protagonist carries a elephantine representation of PM Sheikh Hasina successful Dhaka [File: Anupam Nath/AP]

Hasina, 76, has been successful powerfulness for 15 consecutive years – the longest-serving person successful Bangladesh’s history.

Her tenure has been marked by allegations of authoritarian rule, targeting of the opposition, the suppression of people’s rights, and large-scale ballot rigging successful elections held to support her successful power.

As she seeks a grounds 4th word successful Sunday’s vote, the main absorption Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), led by ailing erstwhile Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, has decided to boycott the vote, arsenic it did successful 2014.

Zia, 78, was jailed for much than 2 years implicit corruption charges and was moved to location apprehension implicit wellness concerns successful 2020. She denies the allegation, saying her condemnation was politically motivated.

Bangladesh ElectionA pistillate holds a placard arsenic BNP supporters signifier a quality concatenation to people International Human Rights Day successful Dhaka [File: Mahmud Hossain Opu/AAP]

The BNP says it does not person immoderate assurance successful Hasina presiding implicit a escaped and just election. It demanded Hasina measurement down to marque mode for a caretaker authorities to organise the vote.

But the request was met with a terrible authorities crackdown, which saw tens of thousands of BNP members arrested and astatine slightest 11 of them killed by information forces during thoroughfare protests, raising concerns implicit valid elections successful the garments hub of the world.

In September, the United States, the apical purchaser of Bangladeshi garments, said it was imposing a visa ban connected the country’s officials who undermine the antiauthoritarian predetermination process.

Two months later, Human Rights Watch condemned the arrests of absorption members and said “the government’s autocratic crackdown volition jeopardise aboriginal economical cooperation” with different countries.

‘Mockery of our democracy’

Since the opposition’s boycott call, Hasina’s enactment had been scrambling to tract autarkic – oregon “dummy” – candidates to marque the predetermination look fair.

The “competitive make-up”, arsenic analysts telephone the move, saw the Awami League fielding candidates similar Alam successful the fray, but astatine the aforesaid time, ensuring the ballot does not propulsion up immoderate surprises for the party.

To guarantee the results are successful favour of the ruling party, the authorities is allegedly utilizing instrumentality enforcement machinery and quality agencies to intimidate and endanger autarkic candidates.

“The radical who barged into my location were from an quality agency,” Ador told Al Jazeera. “They came to my location and threatened maine to halt campaigning for Zafar Alam and question votes for a peculiar candidate.”

Police cordons of the bureau   of the main   absorption   BNP successful  Dhaka, BangladeshPolice officers extracurricular the closed bureau of the main absorption BNP enactment successful Dhaka [File: Al Jazeera]

Ador and much than a twelve different section representatives successful Alam’s constituency wrote a missive to the Bangladesh Election Commission, saying “an quality bureau had enactment immense unit and threatened them” to enactment for an Awami League candidate.

The committee acknowledged receiving specified a missive to Al Jazeera, with predetermination officials saying they were “seriously looking into the complaint”.

Without the main governmental absorption contesting, determination is small uncertainty arsenic to what the results of the Sunday ballot volition be.

“This predetermination is simply a charade,” salient Bangladeshi rights activistic Shahidul Alam told Al Jazeera. “It’s a mockery of our ideology – immoderate is near of it.”

The BNP has not lone boycotted the predetermination but has besides announced a non-cooperation movement, asking radical not to ballot connected Sunday.

As a result, the ruling Awami League’s main interest astatine the infinitesimal is to guarantee a “reasonable” elector turnout, according to its authoritative Bahauddin Nasim. To bash that, the enactment has allegedly resorted to “undue” measures.

In galore constituencies, members of the ruling enactment person been accused of threatening to portion radical of the government’s societal benefits schemes if they neglect to look successful polling booths connected predetermination day.

Nearly 13 cardinal people, belonging to the astir susceptible groups, person nonstop societal benefits from the government, according to the concern ministry’s data. Moreover, getting connected the authorities database of beneficiaries is simply a process involving 473 elected officials, astir each of them belonging to the Awami League.

Videos, unverified by Al Jazeera, are viral connected Bangladeshi societal media, purportedly showing ruling enactment officials threatening the voters.

Bangladesh ElectionBNP supporters stitchery for a protestation rally successful Dhaka [File: Mahmud Hossain Opu/AP]

Rumeen Farhana, the BNP’s planetary affairs secretary, told Al Jazeera that participating successful an election, knowing it volition beryllium rigged, was “suicidal and a betrayal to the thousands who were hurt, detained, tortured, oregon killed for ideology and escaped speech”.

“People of this state volition retrieve this predetermination arsenic the astir absurd and illegitimate 1 successful its history,” she said.

‘Strategy of the autocrats’

Michael Kugelman, manager of the South Asia Institute astatine the Wilson Center successful the United States, said the BNP boycott does the Awami League a “big favour by making it harder for Western countries to reason that the predetermination is fraudulent”.

“If the Awami League wins 95 percent of the vote, 1 can’t impeach the enactment of stealing votes due to the fact that it volition fundamentally beryllium moving against itself,” Kugelman told Al Jazeera.

He said the signifier of events starring to the BNP’s determination to boycott should beryllium of interest to the West.

“Arrests, jailings, a broader crackdown connected dissent, and particularly the Awami League’s refusal to merchandise apical BNP leaders from jailhouse arsenic the predetermination drew person – each of this volition signifier the reasoning of Washington and different capitals post-election,” helium said.

Mohammad A Arafat, Awami League campaigner from superior Dhaka, said helium was “baffled by the conception that the victor of this predetermination volition not get legitimacy from the Western countries”.

“We did immoderate we could. We strengthened our Election Commission and created a level playing tract for each governmental parties. If BNP didn’t privation to join, it’s their choice. Many parties person taken portion successful the election,” helium told Al Jazeera.

Ali Riaz, distinguished prof of authorities and authorities astatine the Illinois State University successful the US, thinks the BNP’s lack from the ballot was ever the astir preferred enactment for the Awami League.

“Forcing the main absorption retired of the predetermination process is simply a strategy autocrats astir the satellite thin to prefer,” helium told Al Jazeera.

Riaz said the upcoming ballot connected Sunday does not conscionable the “basic modular of an election”.

“The full workout looks similar a stage-managed amusement to supply a veneer of ineligible legitimacy which is different conscionable dividing the parliamentary seats among allies,” helium said. “I don’t deliberation the victor volition summation legitimacy from the Western countries.”

Kugelman, however, said helium did not expect the Western capitals to chopped ties with Dhaka.

“That would beryllium rash, not to notation imprudent, particularly fixed the adjacent commercialized ties they person with Bangladesh and the perceived strategical value of Bangladesh successful the discourse of the powerfulness contention successful the Indo-Pacific,” helium said.

“But I bash deliberation if Washington and different Western capitals reason the predetermination isn’t credible – and it’s hard to measure it arsenic credible erstwhile the main absorption enactment sits it retired – determination is simply a accidental that they could reappraisal aboriginal relations with Dhaka, with downgrading of ties a possibility.”

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