While Biden administration has been repeatedly saying, it is looking for holding of a free, fair and credible election in Bangladesh, main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its ideological ally Jamaat-e-Islami have been spending millions of dollars towards lobbyist activities with the goal of convincing Washington in exerting pressure on ruling Awami League government for handing-over power to an unelected “caretaker government” prior to holding of the election. But key policymakers in Washington DC have been consistently rejecting this demand stating there is no provision for caretaker government or unelected election time government under Bangladesh’s constitution.
Meanwhile, Kazi Habibul Awal, Chief Election Commission has declared election schedule and set January 7, 2024 as the voting day.
In May this year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced “visa policy” for Bangladesh under Section 212(a)(3)(C) (“3C”) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, to “support Bangladesh’s goal of holding free, fair, and peaceful national elections”.
Under this policy, the United States will be able to restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. This includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services.
Antony Blinken said: “Actions that undermine the democratic election process include vote rigging, voter intimidation, the use of violence to prevent people from exercising their right to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, and the use of measures designed to prevent political parties, voters, civil society, or the media from disseminating their views”.
He further said, “The holding of free and fair elections is the responsibility of everyone- voters, political parties, the government, the security forces, civil society, and the media. I am announcing this policy to lend our support to all those seeking to advance democracy in Bangladesh”.
Earlier, in another press release, US Embassy in Dhaka said:
The Department of State is taking steps to impose visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. These individuals include members of law enforcement, the ruling party, and the political opposition. The United States is committed to supporting free and fair elections in Bangladesh that are carried out in a peaceful manner.
These persons and members of their immediate family may be found ineligible for entry into the United States. Additional persons found to have been responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh may also be found ineligible for US visas under this policy in the future. This includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of opposition and ruling political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services.
Our actions today reflect the continued commitment of the United States to supporting Bangladesh’s goal of peacefully holding free and fair national elections, and to support those seeking to advance democracy globally.
While in the announcement, Antony Blinken clearly stated this visa restriction shall also be imposed on “persons found to have been responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh may also be found ineligible for US visas under this policy in the future”, Bangladesh Nationalist Party in particular which was considering this visa restriction policy being an reward to its from the Biden administration resorted to terrorist acts including arson attacks and murdering political opponents and members of law enforcement agencies from October 28. Since then, BNP and its ideological ally Jamaat-e-Islami as well as several left-leaning political parties are continuing destructive activities under the pretense of general strikes and blockades, while following announcement of election schedule, leaders of BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jatiya Party and left-leaning forces have announced to obstruct in holding the election on January 7, 2024.
While BNP-Jamaat’s political violence, general strikes and blockade are serious affecting public life, it also has once again proved BNP, Jamaat and left-leaning political parties being inclined towards terrorist acts and willing to return to power through undemocratic process. Such actions of BNP-Jamaat nexus and other political forces have finally proved – these parties actually are not looking for returning to power by participating in election. Instead, their main agenda is destabilizing Bangladesh’s law and order situation and pave path to undemocratic process. It may be mentioned here that, while Jamaat-e-Islami had openly opposed to Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971, Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jatiya Party were founded by military dictators with ultra-Islamist ideology.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party considers Hezbollah and Hamas as its ideological ally as the party is notoriously anti-Semite. As BNP-Jamaat’s ongoing violence have not only damaged its legitimacy of being considered as genuine democratic forces, Washington now is considering imposing visa restrictions on dozens of leaders and activists of these parties, while there also would be similar actions against ruling Awami League.
Responding to question about such possibility of visa restrictions on BNP, Jamaat, Jatiya Party and other political parties in Bangladesh, a source in Washington DC said, “Biden administration pledged to taking visa restriction action against anyone that encumbers free and fair elections in Bangladesh, regardless of party or political affiliation. Under such scenarios, BNP, Jamaat, Jatiya Party and left-leaning parties would come under the purview of the US visa policy”.
According to another analyst, new visa restrictions placed on BNP, Jamaat and Jatiya Party members could help push back against critics of US policy in Bangladesh who allege the US has something against the Awami League and is focusing its criticism on that party alone.