Observer’s foul bids in making Bangladesh general election controversial

Vijaya Laxmi Tripura

On January 22, 2019, Reuters catered an exclusive news item titled ‘Some in Bangladesh election observer group say they now regret involvement’ stating, “A top official at an observer group that monitored Bangladesh’s election, as well as one of its foreign volunteers, have said they regret participating in the process, casting doubt on the credibility of a vote won overwhelmingly by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s ruling alliance”.

The SAARC Human Rights Foundation brought in observers from Canada, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, who spoke to the press on election day and the day after, endorsing the fairness of the voting, often in glowing terms.

On New Year’s Eve, hours after being declared the winner of a contest that brought her a third straight term in power, Hasina sat on a white couch at her residence to address an audience of journalists and election observers.

“They voted so enthusiastically, especially women and the young generation,” Hasina said. “By coming to my country, you have also given us good opportunity to show how democracy is working.”

As a microphone was passed around the room, monitors from the SAARC Human Rights Foundation as well as other observers, including those from the Saudi Arabia-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, congratulated Hasina on the win.

The first to speak was a representative of the foundation, a Canadian woman named Tanya Foster, who called the election “very fair and democratic”. “In Canada I feel that it is a similar type of process,” Foster said, as Hasina smiled back.

Though the initials and logo it uses closely resemble those of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the SAARC Human Rights Foundation has no affiliation with that inter-governmental body.

The foundation’s Secretary General Abed Ali told Reuters the group had applied for approval from SAARC and was expecting it soon. A spokesman for the Kathmandu-based SAARC, though, told Reuters it had never heard of Ali or his group. “The organization is not recognized by SAARC and does not have any relation with SAARC whatsoever,” the spokesman said.

Tanya Foster [Tanya Dawn Foster], a policy analyst in the Saskatchewan provincial government, told Reuters she had heard from Bangladeshis in Canada that a group known as the SAARC Human Rights Foundation was looking for foreign election monitors.

“I asked about the qualifications because I thought it would be an interesting experience. I applied to SAARC and to the Election Commission and they vetted me and offered me an invitation to be an observer,” said Foster, whose daughter Chloe Foster also joined the observer’s panel.

They had never acted as international observers to a national election before.

Foster said she was not aware of the foundation’s links to the Awami League or the lack of affiliation to SAARC.

In hindsight, she said “I don’t feel great about it. I feel like I was too naïve”.

“I don’t know that our reports are of that much value, considering we only visited nine polling centers and only in Dhaka,” she added. “We didn’t go to the more hostile areas. We didn’t audit the election commission or conduct background checks of the presiding officers or poll agents.”

Tanya’s daughter Chloe Foster [earlier was introduced as Chally Foster during the press briefing right after the December 30 general election], who also came to Bangladesh as one of the foreign observers was not available for comment to Reuters.

At the press briefing held on December 31, Tanya Dawn Foster told reporters, “Voters expressed their confidence. It was a very peaceful and organized election.”

When asked about her previous experience as an election observer, Tanya Dawn Foster said, she had observed several elections in the past. But now, Tanya is coming up with a new story. From the Reuters report, it is learnt, she a policy analyst in the Saskatchewan provincial government and it was her acquaintance within Bangladeshi community in Canada that made her aware of foreign observers being invited by SAARC Human Rights Foundation [which does not have any affiliations with South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation – SAARC] and she was enthusiastic in fulfilling her “interesting experience” being accompanied by her daughter Chloe Foster alias Chally Foster.

The ‘exclusive’ report of Reuters possibly now will put the December 30 general election into much controversy and it may even leave grave impact as the international community especially the Western policymakers would be turned much critical of this election. This Reuters ‘exclusive’ report and interviews of the ‘officials’ of SAARC Human Rights Foundation, Tanya Dawn Foster and her daughter Chloe Foster alias Chally Foster was released just days before Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is scheduled to visit Germany.

It should also be mentioned here that, Abed Ali, another senior ‘official’ at SAARC Human Rights Foundation had told Dhaka’s leading English newspaper The Daily Star that his organization has applied with SAARC [South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation] seeking affiliation and the Secretary General of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation had assured him of completing the required formalities during the next “grand summit” of the association. But now, SAARC officials in Kathmandu told Reuters, it had never heard of Ali [Abed Ali] of his group [SAARC Human Rights Foundation]!

Most surprisingly, after many weeks, Mohammad Abdus Salam, a 75-year-old former high court division justice and chairman of SAARC Human Rights Foundation has come up with this new story.

The entire episode seems like there is already a deep conspiracy going on in making the December 30 general election totally farce thus pressing the ruling party in Bangladesh in going for a fresh election. This report will turn opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party [BNP] led coalition Oikya Front [Unity Front] extremely optimistic and a fresh wave of efforts by BNP and its political partner Jamaat e Islami may begin now.

As this newspaper has been repeatedly warning the ruling party in Bangladesh to come out of its honeymoon mood and keep vigilant eyes on the conspirators, it seems, the ruling party is unwilling in listening to any good advice.

Blitz site blocked in Bangladesh:

Most surprisingly, from January 22, 2019 noon [Bangladesh local time], the online edition of Blitz has been blocked in Bangladesh thus stopping millions of our readers in getting access to the site. Till filing of this report, the block was continuing.

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