Diplomats and international relations experts observed that issues such as participatory democracy and human rights will be emphasized during the summit. UK’s minister of state (minister for South Asia, United Nations and the Commonwealth) Lord Tariq Ahmed and ambassador of European Union to Bangladesh Charles Whitely recently hoped that the next parliamentary election in Bangladesh would be held with the participation of all parties. Such comments indicate that the West is inferring the lack of participatory process in our democratic system. This might have a connection as to why Bangladesh is excluded from the summit, think experts.

Apart from India and Pakistan, other South Asian countries invited to the summit include Nepal and Maldives while Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bhutan did not get invitations. China is excluded from the list though Taiwan is invited. China considers Taiwan as its part. Russia has been excluded but countries criticised for authoritarian rules such as Poland and the Philippines have been invited.

The list of invitees has drawn flak as many invited countries are accused of running their countries in an authoritarian manner. President Biden during his electoral campaign in 2019 pledged to hold a democracy summit within a year of taking office.

US state department’s comments

Prothom Alo contacted US state department through email, a week before the list was published, about the objectives of the summit and Bangladesh’s participation. The spokesperson of the state department replied that they would not confirm or deny specific invitations and the summit aims to be inclusive of a regionally and socioeconomically diverse slate of well-established and emerging democracies. The organisers also recognise that no democracy is perfect.

“While countries’ democracies may be experiencing challenges, our general approach is about inclusivity -- we want to engage, encourage positive change, and learn from shared experience,” the state department told Prothom Alo.

Bangladesh’s position in global indices

Sweden-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) in a recent report titled ‘The Global State of Democracy 2021’ listed Bangladesh as an ‘authoritarian’ country. They said some authoritarian regimes are holding elections regularly but these are far from independent and participatory. These types of elections are also not free from irregularities.

The organisation said that an ‘authoritarian regime’ had been continuing in Bangladesh since 2014. The country was categorised as a ‘weak democracy’ from 2008 to 2021.

Earlier, Washington-based Freedom House in its annual report on democratic values categorised Bangladesh as a ‘partly free’ country. The report titled ‘Freedom in the World 2021: Democracy under Siege’ enlisted 210 countries and territories. Bangladesh scored 15 on 40 in terms of political rights and 24 on 60 in civil liberties.

Md Humayun Kabir, who had been Bangladesh ambassador in the US for two and half years, told Prothom Alo that alongside upholding democratic tenets such a freedom of speech and human rights, the US also values strengthening democratic institutions and ensuring the participatory and transparent democratic process.

The ambassador said the US administration at different times expressed their opinion that Bangladesh has regressed in the process of strengthening democracy as a whole. The US administration feels that if fair elections are held, the efforts to establish a discrimination-free Bangladesh will be sustainable.

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