US visa warning causes stir all day, govt 'not worried'
Dhaka has reaffirmed its commitment to free and fair polls and said necessary measures will be taken to prevent any interference that may compromise a smooth and participatory election.
In response to the new US visa policy regarding polls in Bangladesh, the government also said the electoral process will remain under strict vigilance, including by international observers as accredited by the Election Commission.
"The government appreciates that the international community including the US firmly stands by Hon'ble Prime Minister's sustained commitment to ensure free and fair elections," reads a foreign ministry statement issued on Thursday.
The US has decided to deny visas to individuals, from law enforcers to political leaders, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.
The wide range of people under the purview of the new policy includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued the statement and also tweeted about the development.
However, Bangladesh said it expects that such a visa policy will not be applied arbitrarily in a non-objective manner.
"Bangladesh would like to view this announcement 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," reads the ministry statement.
The US move caused a stir in the diplomatic and political arena in the country, drawing responses from three top government ministers who told the media that the Hasina administration is all along committed to free and fair polls and the government is not under any pressure.
Leaders of the ruling Awami League, BNP, and Jatiya Party met the US Ambassador Peter Haas at his residence around noon on the day to discuss the issue.
Ambassador Haas also visited the foreign ministry to sit with Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and explain his country's new visa policy.
Awami League General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader said he agrees with the US decision to impose restrictions on anyone who obstructs a fair election in Bangladesh.
"This is our view too; we must resist anyone who will obstruct the fair election in the country," he said.
Agriculture Minister Abdur Razzaque expressed that the government is not feeling any pressure because of the US warning.
"The government is not concerned about the US warning of visa restrictions…This warning applies to everyone, including the BNP," stated the minister.
Echoing his view, Foreign Minister Abdul Momen said there is nothing to worry about. "They have done their job, now we will do our."
Welcoming the US position, the opposition BNP hoped it would play a supporting role in ensuring fair elections.
"There is no reason for our party to be worried about the US move since it's about vote rigging," Amir Khasru, a standing committee member of BNP, while talking to reporters in front of the party chairperson's Gulshan office.
The BNP has long been pressing for a neutral caretaker government to oversee the next national polls slated for next January, claiming that fair polls are not possible under the current government.
It also boycotted the five city corporation elections, including yesterday's Gazipur polls.
The ruling party leaders, on the other hand, maintain that the government will extend all possible cooperation to the Election Commission to hold a free and fair election.
In accordance with this, the foreign ministry statement narrated some "electoral reform process" the government undertook.
It includes photo-based voter ID cards that were issued in response to the 10.23 million fraudulent voters enlisted by the BNP-led government.
The use of transparent ballot boxes has also been made the norm to establish confidence among the electorate as well as the polling officials and agents.
Also, the Election Commission continues to be equipped with the wherewithal to carry out its functions in full independence, credibility and efficiency.
"…the government apparatus will take 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 government expects that the local undemocratic forces that resort to violence, arson and destruction would remain cautious and refrain from their misguided efforts to jeopardise 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, said the statement.
"The people's right to franchise is considered a State sanctity by the Awami League government…"
Ambassador Haas meets FM Momen
After the meeting with Momen, the US ambassador said the newly announced visa policy was merely the US' way of helping the democratic electoral process in Bangladesh.
Momen, in his briefing, said the government is neither feeling pressure nor any discomfort, reports UNB.
With this announcement, he hoped parties which resort to violence, arson and destruction would remain cautious.
"I asked [the US ambassador] if such a policy is being applied first in Bangladesh or it was there in other countries too. He [Peter Hass] then said they have implemented it in Nigeria and Somalia."
Momen also wanted to know from the ambassador whether democracy in the two countries has been improved.
"He [Ambassador Haas] could not tell whether they have become successful by applying such a policy in any other country," he told reporters.
Asked whether the government accepts or rejects the visa restriction, Momen said there is nothing to accept or reject as this is a policy announced by the US.
Replying to a query, he mentioned he had received a letter from the US Secretary of State earlier this month, informing Dhaka about the new policy.
They took the letter very positively as this actually supports Prime Minister Hasina's commitment to free and fair elections.
He added all parties also will have to have political commitment for a free and fair election.
Earlier in the morning, Momen insisted that the new visa policy does not strain the relationship between Bangladesh and the US; instead, it signifies a strong and positive bilateral bond.
"The current state of our relationship with them [the US] is not strained; in fact, it remains highly favourable," Momen told reporters.
In a press briefing in the evening, State Minister for foreign affairs Shahriar Alam, said, "We have taken it in a good spirit."
Asked if it is the failure of foreign ministry as Bangladesh is the third country under such a visa policy, he said, "Not at all."
"The United States informed us about it verbally on May 3. But they requested us not to disclose it. Because they wanted to present it in such a way that the message would not be misunderstood," he added.