Bangladesh faces conspiracies on its way to be a Smart nation


Published on March 26, 2024
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The 12thParliamentary Election in Bangladesh serves as a testament to the nations dedication to democracy, underscoring the significance of free and equitable elections in shaping the course of a nations destiny. Bangladesh, with the leadership of Prime Minister Shiekh Hasina, is heading towards the status of developing country with a stable economy and political atmosphere despite limited natural resources, unlimited natural calamities, extremism and Rohingya crisis.

It is unfortunate that Bangladesh has to face many national and international conspiracies on its way to be a Smart nation. In recent days, The European Union Election Expert Mission to Bangladesh has published the final report regarding the latest parliamentary election in Bangladesh. While we appreciate some of the observations of the team, we believe the report misrepresents many key aspects and presents an unbalanced view of the recent national election. However, we feel compelled to address certain aspects of the report that we believe warrant clarification and contextualization. Bangladesh is committed to welcome constructive criticism and will consider the Election Missions reports recommendations alongside domestic perspectives.

First and foremost, Bangladesh recognizes the paramount importance of upholding democratic principles and ensuring the conduct of free and fair elections. The government of Bangladesh reaffirms its dedication to nurturing an inclusive and competitive electoral atmosphere that upholds the fundamental rights of all citizens. Nevertheless, it is imperative to acknowledge the distinctive challenges and intricacies inherent in Bangladeshs political landscape, particularly during the 2024 parliamentary election. It is evident to the international community that the 12th Parliamentary election unfolded amidst formidable circumstances, including a deeply polarized environment.

The report by EU experts mentions the probable election fraud, ballot box stuffing in the election in localised manner. In addition, the report mentions an allegation of underreporting of Campaign Spending in the pre-election period. However, the report acknowledges the lack of evidence for widespread voting fraud and irregularities of campaign spending. On the other hand, Bangladesh became a vibrant nation filled with celebrations, including posters, symbols, banners, and decorations adorning the skies, while activists rally around all 300 constituencies to support their chosen candidates. According to the Election Commission (EC), a total of 1,896 candidates are eligible to contest in the upcoming election. This includes both independent candidates and members from 27 political parties. The selection process for candidates adheres strictly to established election laws and regulations.

The report highlights concern regarding restrictions on civil and political rights in the pre-election period, including freedoms of assembly, association, movement, and speech. Bangladesh always upholds fundamental rights and political rights. Pre-election violence necessitated security measures, but freedom of assembly and political activities were not unduly restricted.

A series of violent incidents marred Bangladesh on 28 October 2023, starting with clashes during a Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) gathering in Dhaka, resulting in the death of a police officer and attacks on the chief justices residence, law enforcement and judicial institutions.

The allegations regarding the lack of freedom of speech are completely misguided and inaccurate.The government is committed to freedom of speech and the review process of the Cyber Security Act is going on.The Digital Security Act 2018 enacted by the government of Bangladesh is often misinterpreted as a tool for suppressing freedom of expression and restricting online activities. However, it is important to take notice that the law was legislated to address serious concerns related to cybercrime, hate speech, misinformation, and national security. In todays digital age, governments must have mechanisms in place to protect their citizens from online threats while maintaining a delicate balance between security and freedom of expression. On September 13, 2023, the government has decided to replace the heavily criticised Digital Security Act 2018 with an upgraded Cyber Security Act 2023 with amendments to some sections of the existing law.

The proposed Cyber Security Act will carry monetary penalties instead of imprisonment in defamation cases filed under the Act. If the law comes into effect, the police will not arrest anyone in defamation cases. The media played a vital role to make this election credible to the world. They enjoyed total freedom of speech during the election days, and they telecast the election happenings live from the election centres. The experts and common people enjoy freedom of speech in their real life and virtual world in the digitalised Bangladesh.

The allegation of Limited role of the Civil Society in the election was misguided. The people of Bangladesh and the civil society were closely connected to the election process, and they delivered different types of comments on media and online platforms to make constructive criticism of any irregularities in the pre-election process. This is why, it can be said that the report lacks proper documentation and evidence for this allegation.

Another claim of Womens underrepresentation in the election is a relative term. Though 20 women candidates are directly elected, additional 50 seats are reserved for women in the parliament. We live in a patriarchal society, where women do not get support from their male counterparts to progress in politics. Despite endorsements for womens empowerment in politics, actual nomination opportunities for women remain limited.

While the government acknowledges the imperfections and challenges faced during the 2024 parliamentary election, they reject the assertion that it did not meet key international standards for democratic elections. The government welcomes the recommendations provided in the final election report and are committed to engaging in constructive dialogue to address any shortcomings identified. Our government stands ready to collaborate with the European Union and other international partners to strengthen democratic institutions ensuring peace and stability in Bangladesh.

Writer: Md Sazzad Hossain, PhD; Member of the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh (UGC)

Courtesy: Daily Observer