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Bangladesh’s Flawed Election Increases Risk Of Violence

In recent times, Bangladesh has witnessed significant political upheaval. The latest general elections held on January 7, 2024, mark a critical juncture, raising concerns about democracy and human rights in Bangladesh.

This blog post delves into the various dimensions of these elections, shedding light on the challenges to democracy and human rights and how the conflict between Sheikh Hasina and opposition parties poses potential risks of escalating violence in the nation.

Sheikh Hasina and Opposition Parties: A Fractured Political Landscape

The current political scenario in Bangladesh is largely shaped by the conflict between Sheikh Hasina’s ruling Awami League (AL) and opposition parties, particularly the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Sheikh Hasina’s government has been criticized for increasingly authoritarian tactics, including the suppression of dissent and crackdowns on opposition members.

The controversial elections, which the BNP boycotted due to doubts about their fairness, resulted in the AL’s victory but also raised questions about the legitimacy of the electoral process.

Democracy and Human Rights in Bangladesh: Suppressing Voices, Ignoring Rights

The elections were marked by allegations of widespread repression and democracy and human rights challenges. Human rights organizations reported over 600 enforced disappearances since 2009, and instances of torture and extrajudicial killings have been notable.

Journalists and activists faced increasing attacks, contributing to a climate of fear and self-censorship. This environment undermines the conditions for open political debate, which is essential for a healthy democracy.

The democratic challenges that have arisen over the years are as follows;

  1. Mass Political Arrests: The elections were marked by widespread political arrests, with reports of almost 10,000 opposition members and activists being detained. This mass crackdown has raised concerns about the suppression of political dissent and the fairness of the electoral process.
  2. Enforced Disappearances and Extrajudicial Killings: Security forces in Bangladesh have been implicated in enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. The pattern of these abuses has been a longstanding concern, significantly undermining the democratic process.
  3. Violence and Abuse in Detention: There have been allegations of torture and abuse in police custody. Reports include instances of detainees being subjected to electric shocks and physical violence, exacerbating fears of state-sanctioned brutality.
  4. Restrictions on Freedom of Speech: Journalists and media organizations have faced increasing pressure and attacks, undermining conditions for open political debate. The environment has led to self-censorship among journalists, thus impacting the dissemination of information about the elections.
  5. Use of Excessive Force by Authorities: During the election period, there were instances of the police using excessive force, including firing rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters. Such actions have been criticized for violating international standards on the use of force.
  6. International Response and Concerns: International observers, including the United Nations and foreign governments, have expressed concern over the rise in political violence, arbitrary detentions, and allegations of harassment and intimidation. Calls have been made for the Bangladesh government to respect its international human rights obligations.
  7. Impact on the Democratic Process: These issues collectively raise serious questions about the integrity of the democratic process in Bangladesh. The combination of political repression, human rights abuses, and curtailment of freedoms has cast a shadow over the election’s legitimacy.

The Impact on Human Rights

The impact of democracy and human rights challenges in Bangladesh has been profound. The government’s refusal to cooperate with the United Nations in investigating allegations of enforced disappearances is a significant concern.

Furthermore, the Cyber Security Act 2023, replacing the Digital Security Act, continues to stifle freedom of expression and punish government critics, which further erodes democratic principles.

Violence and its Aftermath

The aftermath of the elections has been marred by violence, with reports of clashes and unrest across the country. The opposition’s decision to boycott the elections and engage in general strikes and blockades has led to a tense and volatile situation.

The government’s response, involving arrests and crackdowns on opposition activists, only exacerbates the conflict.

End Note: The Road Ahead

As Sheikh Hasina and the opposition parties stand at this critical juncture, they face significant challenges in navigating its political, social, and economic landscape. The recent elections have not only highlighted the democratic challenges in the country but also brought to the fore the urgent need for a dialogue between the ruling party and the opposition to mitigate the risk of further violence.

The international community’s role in encouraging such dialogue and ensuring respect for human rights and democratic norms is crucial. For the sake of Bangladesh’s 170 million citizens, it is imperative that all parties work towards a resolution that upholds democratic values and human rights.



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