Bangladesh in Focus: An ANFREL biweekly Election Update (11-24 December 2023)

In the lead-up to Bangladesh's 12th Parliamentary Election on January 7, 2024, the political landscape continued to witness tensions and conflicts. The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its allies, initiated a countrywide dawn-to-dusk strike on December 19 as part of their non-cooperation movement, amid the continued arrests and imprisonment of their leaders and activists.1 This movement, accompanied by the threat of withdrawing candidates, underscored concerns about the perceived lack of fairness and impartiality in the upcoming electoral process.2

According to the Election Commission, a total of 1,896 candidates are set to participate in the upcoming polls, despite the boycott by BNP, its allies, and some other like-minded parties. Moreover, a total of 382 independent candidates are contesting for 221 seats in the upcoming Parliamentary polls.3 A total of 347 candidates had also withdrawn their candidacies till the last day for withdrawing from the upcoming election (17 December).4 

The Bangladesh Congress issued a threat to withdraw all its 121 candidates, accusing the ruling Awami League (AL) of manipulating the election through seat-sharing arrangements.5 The contentious issue of seat allocation further fueled dissatisfaction among alliance partners, reflecting broader challenges in achieving consensus and cooperation among political entities. To add to this, the AL-alliance had allocated 26 seats in the National Parliament to the Jatiya Party, and only 6 seats to its other allies which added further complications.6 

Amid the political turmoil, instances of pre-election violence unfolded. Notably, there were attacks against independent candidates, further complicating the electoral landscape.7 Meanwhile, BNP's Secretary General, Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, encountered hurdles in securing bail in 10 cases, illustrating the complex legal landscape surrounding the opposition's engagement in the electoral process.8

The Election Commission urged the Home Ministry to implement measures prohibiting political rallies and processions, excluding election campaigns, from December 18 to January 7.9 BNP characterised these actions as unprecedented and anti-people, adding to the political turmoil leading up to the election.10 However, Election Commissioner Md Alamgir said that the Election Commission's request to the government to limit political events did not curtail the rights of political parties.11 The Home Ministry later mandated this request.12 BNP meanwhile announced a three-day mass contact and leaflet distribution program from December 26 to 28, intensifying their non-cooperation efforts.13 

In addition to the domestic dynamics, concerns over the fairness and transparency of Bangladesh's 12th Parliamentary Election drew attention from international actors. The United States voiced deep concern over reports of mass arrests and allegations of torture against opposition members in the lead-up to the general election.14 Furthermore, according to a report by the Financial Times, pro-government news outlets and influencers in Bangladesh have also been promoting disinformation generated by Artificial Intelligence in recent months.15 Six international human rights organisations also raised apprehensions regarding the present state of human rights and civic freedoms in Bangladesh.16 

Furthermore, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Opinion Irene Khan noted the challenging period in Bangladesh and the uncertain future. The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI), collaborating as a team from the United States, arrived in Bangladesh to conduct a limited technical assessment focused on potential conditions of electoral violence before, during, and after the parliamentary elections.17

These international actors emphasised their commitment to ensuring that the people of Bangladesh could exercise their voting rights freely, without facing any form of intimidation. The heightened scrutiny from the global community underscored the significance of Bangladesh's electoral process in maintaining democratic principles and upholding human rights standards on the international stage.

READ THE FULL BRIEFER HERE: "Bangladesh in Focus: An ANFREL biweekly Election Update (11-24 December 2023)"


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