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US team urges moderate rhetoric, open dialogue for participatory polls

An International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) joint delegation has said the upcoming national election in Bangladesh is a litmus test for democracy in the country.

“We feel the primary problem is lack of constructive engagement among key political actors,” said Karl F. Inderfurth (NDI Co-Chair).

“The best way to end the stalemate is through good faith dialogue, in the run-up to the January 2024 elections and beyond,” reports UNB.

From October 8 to 11, 2023, the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) deployed a bipartisan, international delegation to provide an independent and impartial assessment of electoral preparations ahead of Bangladesh’s upcoming 12th parliamentary election; examine factors that could affect the integrity and viability of the electoral process; and offer recommendations that could help improve the prospects for inclusive, transparent, and peaceful elections and public confidence in the process.

Bangladesh’s robust economic growth and strong tradition of democratic values have set a strong foundation for the country to achieve its 2041 vision of becoming a developed country, the delegation said.

However, they said, the current political environment presents several challenges to electoral integrity, including uncompromising and zero-sum politics, highly charged rhetoric, political violence, a widespread climate of uncertainty and fear, contracting civic space and freedom of expression, and a trust deficit among citizens, political leaders, and other stakeholders.

Women, youth, and other marginalized groups also face significant barriers to participation.

Bangladesh is at a crossroads and the upcoming elections provide a litmus test for the country’s commitment to a democratic, participatory, and competitive political process.

The delegation offered the recommendations below as a roadmap for progress toward credible, inclusive, participatory, and nonviolent elections that can advance Bangladesh’s democracy.

They are outlined as:

●Moderate rhetoric and engage in open and substantive dialogue on key election issues.

●Protect freedom of expression and ensure an open civic space where dissent is respected.

●Commit to nonviolence and hold perpetrators of political violence accountable.

●Create conditions to allow all parties to engage in meaningful political competition, including bolstering independent election management.

●Promote a culture of inclusive and active electoral participation among citizens.

To develop these recommendations, the delegation met with government officials; the Bangladesh Election Commission; party leaders from across the political spectrum; civil society representatives; current and former women members of parliament; representatives of organizations engaging with youth, persons with disabilities and religious minorities; media representatives; members of the legal community; and representatives of the international and diplomatic communities.

“We appreciate all those who shared their views freely about the challenges and opportunities that exist in Bangladesh for holding inclusive, participatory, and nonviolent elections,” said Bonnie Glick (IRI Co-Chair)..

“We came away from these conversations with concerns about the election environment, but hopeful that our recommendations can help to improve the process.”

The delegation recognized that it is the people of Bangladesh who will ultimately determine the credibility and legitimacy of their elections and their country’s democratic development.

The delegation therefore offered this pre-election statement in the spirit of supporting and strengthening democratic institutions in Bangladesh.

Members of the joint delegation included Bonnie Glick (IRI Co-Chair), Former Deputy USAID Administrator; Karl F. Inderfurth (NDI Co-Chair), Former Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs; Maria Chin Abdullah, Former Member of the House of Representatives, Malaysia; Jamil Jaffer, Former Associate Counsel to the President of the United States; Johanna Kao, IRI Senior Director, Asia-Pacific Division; and Manpreet Singh Anand, NDI Regional Director, Asia-Pacific. The delegates were joined by technical and country experts from NDI and IRI.