Again questioning about the latest version of the general elections in Bangladesh, visiting British Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Mark Field said that the parliamentary election held on December 30 last year did not meet the standards that would ensure fairness with a free choice for the voter.
Mark Field has also reiterated his call for a transparent settlement of the complaints of irregularities, Otherwise, describing people’s choice as crucial, he warned that without it there remains a risk that people will look for ‘other ways’ for getting the changes they desire.
The UK minister was delivering the keynote address at a seminar on ‘Governance and Development – the Way Forward for Bangladesh’ organized by the Policy Research Institute (PRI) in Dhaka on Sunday.
Prime minister’s Political Affairs Adviser HT Imam was present at the event as chief guest while prime minister’s Economic Affairs Adviser Dr Mashiur Rahman attended as guest of honour. PRI Executive Director Dr Ahsan Mansur moderated the seminar.
But, both the advisers defended the election on December 30, calling it free, fair and without any interference from the government.
Prior to the seminar, at the same venue, Minister Field told a small group of reporters that the situation surrounding Brexit is still ‘fluid’ and that it is too early to say to what extent Bangladesh would be affected.
On the Rohingya crisis, he said that the international community would keep on putting pressure on Myanmar to take back their people, but expressed skepticism on the repatriation of the persecuted refugees back to their homes.
“It is often said that democracy is the worst form of government – apart from all the others, and that events continue to prove it right,” he said.
“You will be well aware that the British Parliament is currently wrestling with the complexities of implementing the British people’s decision to leave the EU. Some have suggested that this lengthy process means democracy has somehow failed.
“As an elected parliamentarian, I can confidently say that the opposite is true; it is democracy in action – with all its imperfections,” he added.
The British minister went on to say: “And as a friend of Bangladesh I profoundly hope that, as Bangladesh graduates to middle income status, it will remain true to its democratic values. That means holding elections that are fair, and that presents voters with a free choice.
“It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I fear the parliamentary election which took place here in December did not meet this standard – as I said at the time. I also pressed for a full, credible and transparent resolution of all complaints,” he said.
Field said the notion of choice is crucial in any healthy democracy.
“Without it, there is a risk that voters might seek other ways of achieving the changes they want,” he added, without any further elaboration.
“Ultimately, that could pose a much greater threat to stability than allowing them to express their views through democratic channels,” Field said.
That is why it is so important to have a political opposition in place, one that is able and willing to hold the government to account and offer an alternate view, he said.
The UK minister, a member of the House of Commons belonging to ruling Conservative Party, said: “That means upholding Bangladesh’s fine tradition of allowing people to voice dissent and express themselves freely. It also means allowing the media to do its job of holding the powerful to account.”
“This really matters, because the strength and accountability of our institutions, and the confidence that they inspire in investors, are also crucial to our democracies – and to our economies,” he added, assuring of UK’s help in these aspects.
Field also talked about setting up campuses of different UK educational institutions which he thinks will be a win-win situation for Bangladesh. Instead of some wealthy students going to the UK to study, London can bring world class education to Bangladesh, he said.
“Every time I come here, I am struck by the energy and talent of the people. I would very much like more of them to have the opportunity to benefit from the UK’s world class educational institutions,” said the minister.
HT Imam sees governance as biggest challenge
Speaking on the occasion, Prime Minister’s political advisor HT Imam, however, identified governance as the biggest challenge for the country.
“Our major challenge is providing good governance and maintaining steady growth and development,” Mr Imam said.
“By good governance, we simply do not mean maintaining good law and order — but we also mean zero tolerance against militancy, drugs and corruption,” he added.
Prime Minister’s economic adviser Dr. Mashiur Rahman, in his speech, highlighted the plight of the local readymade garments manufacturers in meeting the international safety standards.
“Currently, our RMG industry is having problem with issues like safety standards, working environment and wages,” he said.
“But when the prices are going down and there is an emphasis that we must comply with these standards, it becomes a little hard on the traders,” Mr Rahman added.
(Shakhawat Hossain is Dhaka-based freelance Journalist and Political Commentator)