Bangladesh in Focus: An ANFREL Biweekly Election Update (16-29 October 2023)

Political tensions, rallies, arrests, and the beginning of violent clashes between the Awami League (AL), the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and law enforcement were observed from 16 to 29 October 2023.

The United States (US) emphasised the need for a dialogue among the political parties to ensure a free, fair and participatory election following a report made by the US Pre-Election Assessment Mission (US PEAM) organised by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), after assessing the electoral preparations for the upcoming national election in advance. The report included five recommendations to Bangladeshi electoral stakeholders, including a dialogue between the political parties.1 Despite these recommendations, the ruling AL continued to make it difficult to have a dialogue; only agreeing to one if the BNP accepts that “no caretaker government will be formed, Sheikh Hasina will be the prime minister of the election-time government, the parliament will be in the status quo, and no change will come in the election commission”.2

This period also saw countless opposition leaders and activists, including BNP’s Standing Committee Member Mirza Abbas, being arrested and shown as accused individuals in multiple cases throughout the country.3 These arrests happened ahead of BNP’s October 18 and October 28 rallies when multiple leaders and activists were arrested or detained either on their way to Dhaka to attend the rallies or from their residences, as well as during and after the rallies.4 AL countered BNP’s rallies by organising ‘peace and development’ rallies throughout the country. On October 28 during BNP’s grand rally in Dhaka, BNP leaders and activists clashed with AL leaders and activists as well as law enforcement agencies throughout the city which saw multiple individuals being injured and the death of a policeman.5 Following this incident, BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami called for nationwide strikes which also saw sporadic episodes of violence throughout the country as well as deaths.6 These strikes were countered by the AL calling for further rallies during the strike days. The European Union (EU) and the US condemned the political violence, with the US reminding the electoral stakeholders of the visa policy.7 The end of this reporting period also saw BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir being arrested then detained with at least six cases filed against him.8

Meanwhile, the United Nations expressed its desire to see a free and fair election in Bangladesh but stated that it would not observe the election without a mandate. The International Crisis Group also warned of potential violence before and after the upcoming national election and highlighted the country's reliance on India and China if Western nations imposed sanctions in response to a rigged election. To add to the already worrying and controversial nature of the electoral environment, a new mobile phone surveillance system is set to be introduced by the government for the election, allowing them access to a mobile phone user’s confidential data and their precise location.9

These events reflected a period of escalating political tensions, mass arrests, violent rallies, and confrontations in the run-up to the national election while continuing to raise concerns regarding the electoral environment and the upcoming national election itself.

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READ THE FULL BRIEFER HERE: "Bangladesh in Focus: An ANFREL Biweekly Election Update (16-29 October 2023)"



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