By David Bergman
European Union ambassadors in Dhaka have recommended to their Brussels headquarters that no international observers should be sent to monitor the forthcoming elections in Bangladesh, New Age has learnt.
In a report sent on Monday to the EU political and security committee, the Dhaka-based ambassadors stated that the election due to be held on January 5 was ‘not credible,’ particularly in light of the fact that over a half of all members of parliament had, in effect, already been elected unopposed without a vote.
‘Until Friday, there were some European missions who took a legalistic approach, arguing that observers should come and monitor the election as it was taking place in line with the constitution, and only after monitoring the election, the EU could then make a decision about its credibility,’ one senior diplomat told New Age.
‘However, after we learnt that 154 seats were unopposed, it was agreed that the criteria of credibility in the elections had gone.… When over half the voters in the country have no right to vote, you cannot call this a general election,’ the diplomat added.
Another diplomat from a different EU mission confirmed that the report contained a recommendation that election observers should not be sent.
‘[EU] Headquarters asked us to write a report on the elections for consideration of the political and security committee,’ the second diplomat said. ‘The report says that there is not much use in observing the elections, they lack credibility.’
The diplomat was, however, not willing to set out other recommendations made in the report to the PSC which sat on Tuesday in Brussels.
‘This was the most immediate matter that required consideration from Brussels,’ the diplomat said.
The political and security committee, which sat on Tuesday, comprises ambassadors from all EU countries and meets once or twice a week.
According to the diplomats, the PSC will either have made a decision on Tuesday or if there was some disagreement between the ambassadors, the issue would have been sent back to the capitals for consideration at a ministerial level.
It is likely that a decision will be publicly announced by the end of the week.
One of the diplomats said that on January 6 next year, the day after the election, the EU will start to ‘reconsider its relationship with Bangladesh’ which ‘automatically takes place as the country has not held credible elections.’
He explained that the EU has different relationships between countries that it considers to be democratic states, like Bangladesh has been since 1990, and those countries that they view as rogue states.
‘[After the January 5 election] Bangladesh will be somewhere in between, and we have to see what privileges it has been receiving in the past which it now could lose,’ the diplomat said.
The EU, whose membership includes most Western and some Eastern European Countries and which has nine missions in Dhaka including the EU delegation itself, has political, economic and development relationships with Bangladesh.
Both the diplomats said that the removal of Bangladesh’s access to generalised system of preferences, which offers the country’s exporters tariff reductions, could well be part of the EU’s post-election thinking about Bangladesh although they were aware how its removal could hit Bangladeshi people, rather than levering any change from political leaders.
The European Union did not respond to a formal request for comment for this article.
The United States has not yet announced whether it will be sending election monitors through the International Republican Institute.
In January 2007, two days after the EU had publicly announced that it was recalling its monitors from observing the election that was due to take place later that month, the country’s president proclaimed a state of emergency which lasted almost two years.
The diplomats were speaking a day after reports in some newspapers claimed that EU ambassadors had snubbed attending Victory day programme at Saver on Monday.
A EU diplomat, however, told New Age that this was a ‘big misunderstanding’ and there had been no snub.
He said that in 2011, the organisation of the event had not been handled well and EU ambassadors had some security concerns. As a result in 2012, the ambassadors did not go to Savar but they did attend the presidential reception later that day.
‘We just did the same thing this year,’ the diplomat said.