US calls for fresh vote in Bagladesh

Washington/New Delhi, Jan 7: The United States, not on the same page with India on Bangladesh, has called for fresh parliamentary elections in the South Asian nation.

The US said it was “disappointed” as the just-concluded polls which “do not appear to credibly express the will of the Bangladeshi people” as more than half of the seats were uncontested and the rest offered only token opposition.

In Sunday’s elections marred by violence and boycott of the main opposition Bangladesh National Party and its allies, Prime Minsiter Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League has won 232 of the 300 seats.

The League has dismissed critics who called the vote a “farce” and questioned its legitimacy.

“While it remains to be seen what form the new government will take, United States commitment to supporting the people of Bangladesh remains undiminished. To that end, we encourage the Government of Bangladesh and opposition parties to engage in immediate dialogue to find a way to hold as soon as possible elections that are free, fair, peaceful, and credible, reflecting the will of the Bangladeshi people,” Marie Harf, deputy spokesperson of the State Department, said Monday.

In the coming days, as Bangladesh seeks a way forward that is in keeping with its strong democratic traditions, Harf said, “we call upon the Government of Bangladesh to provide political space to all citizens to freely express their political views.

“We also call strongly on the opposition to use such space peacefully and responsibly, and for all sides to eschew violence, which is not part of democratic practice and must stop immediately,” she said while replying to queries on the current situation in Bangladesh at a press briefing.

Hasina took a tough line Monday, saying she would not enter talks unless the opposition first renounced violence.

“Today, democracy is tainted by the blood of innocent people and soaked by the tears of burned people, who have fallen victim to the violent political programme that is hitting the nation’s conscience,” she said.,

Hasina asserted that her re-election was legitimate and asked her arch-rival, BNP chief Khaleda Zia, to shun “terrorism” and severe ties with the fundamentalist Jamaat-e-Islami to strike a deal on the next elections.

She said fresh elections might be arranged if the League and BNP were able to reach a consensus.

India also Monday said violence cannot and should be allowed to determine the course of political events in Bangladesh.

“Elections in Bangladesh on 5 January were a constitutional requirement. They are a part of the internal and constitutional process of Bangladesh. It is for the people of Bangladesh to decide their own future and choose their representatives in a manner that responds to their aspirations,” India’s external affairs ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin said.

The difference in perception between India and the US on the political situation in Bangladesh also came into the open Monday. Asked about the US coordination with India on the issue, Harf expressed her unawareness over the matter.

Media reports earlier said US Ambassador to Bangladesh Dan Mozena and US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell had met with Indian Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh in October on the situation in Bangladesh.

Harf, however, said the US condemned in the strongest terms the violence from all quarters.

“Violence is not an acceptable element of the political process… Bangladesh’s political leadership – and those who aspire to lead – must do everything in their power to ensure law and order and refrain from supporting and fomenting violence, especially against minority communities,” she said.

“Obviously, we believe going forward things should be done very differently,” she said adding that Bangladesh still has a chance to have a different future.

The Commonwealth menawhile said the elections were “disappointing” due to limited participation and added that the acts of violence are “deeply troubling” and “unacceptable.

“It is critical that Bangladesh moves quickly to find a path forward through dialogue to a more inclusive and peaceful political process in which the will of the people can be fully expressed,” said Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma in a statement.

–Indo-ASian New Service

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IANS