Bangladesh in Focus: An ANFREL Biweekly Election Update (13 – 26 November 2023)

Between 13 and 26 November in Bangladesh, a series of significant political events unfolded, including the announcement of the election schedule for the upcoming election, reflecting the country's tense and dynamic political climate.

The period began with the police filing a case against two deceased BNP leaders for violence on October 29.1 The Awami League (AL) asserted the continuation of arrests until the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) halted its activities.2 In response to the political crisis, leaders of Ganatantra Mancha (an alliance of six political parties - Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-JSD, Nagarik Oikya, Revolutionary Workers Party, Bhasani Anusari Parishad, Rashtra Reform Movement and Ganosamhati Andolan) called on the Election Commission during a rally to refrain from publishing the upcoming election schedule until the ongoing political crisis surrounding the upcoming election is resolved.3

The State Minister for Foreign Affairs emphasized that the upcoming national election would adhere to the Constitution, irrespective of ongoing challenges.4 Along that line, the Election Commission announced the election schedule on November 15, which was met with the announcement of nationwide strikes and blockades by BNP and its allies, as well as enthusiasm from AL and its allies. However, concerns about human rights abuses before and after the announcement of the election schedule were raised during Bangladesh’s UPR session, leading to verbal abuse directed at Adilur Rahman Khan, a human rights defender and Secretary of Odhikar, Bangladesh, during a related event.5

The US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu issued letters to major political parties, calling for unconditional dialogue and emphasizing the expectation of a free, fair, and inclusive election.6 As tensions continued to rise, AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader declared that the time for dialogue was over, further intensifying the political standoff.7 Protests, demonstrations, and opposing reactions to the US letters deepened the polarization between the major political parties. On the other hand, Russia saw the US Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas’ intervention as an “interference” with Bangladesh's internal affairs, which the US labelled as a “deliberate mischaracterization” of US Ambassador Peter Haas’s meetings and the US’ foreign policy.8 The Chief Election Commissioner eventually announced the election schedule, setting the polling day for January 7, 2024.9

US Ambassador Peter Haas reiterated the US’ neutral stance, emphasising the need for dialogue between political parties, which AL rejected.10 The EU expressed its desire for a free and fair election in Bangladesh and will be sending a four-member observer team to Bangladesh to observe the upcoming election, while the Commonwealth will be sending a Pre-Election Assessment Mission (PEAM) on a five-day visit.11

Protests and strikes persisted, with BNP and allies announcing multiple nationwide strikes. The Election Commission faced challenges, including accusations of Electoral Code violations and criticism from various quarters. Arrests of political leaders and activists, legal proceedings, and growing international scrutiny characterized this period, creating a highly charged and complex political environment in the lead-up to the scheduled election. The interconnectedness of arrests, diplomatic interventions, and electoral preparations shaped the narrative of Bangladesh's evolving political landscape during this two-week period.

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  3.; Note: The Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (National Socialist Party) is split into two factions - the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-JSD, which supports the opposition, and the Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal-Jasad, which supports the ruling party.  ↩︎
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READ THE FULL BRIEFER HERE: "Bangladesh in Focus: An ANFREL Biweekly Election Update (13 - 26 November 2023)"



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