US wants reflection of people’s will in Bangladesh polls

Staff Correspondent . Dhaka | Update:

Visiting US principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells addressing a press conference in Dhaka on MondayThe US administration called upon the government to fulfill its commitment to holding a free fair, credible and participatory election that reflects the will of the Bangladeshi people.

A senior US state department official also asked Dhaka to protect civil liberties, especially freedom of speech and press.

“Bangladesh’s future success depends upon strengthening of its democratic institutions and governing structures,” visiting US principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia, Alice Wells said at a press briefing at a city hotel on Monday.

Highlighting the importance that the US government placed on Bangladesh’s role in its Indo-Pacific Strategy, she said the governments of the two countries were very much aligned in their visions for a ‘free, open, rules-based and interconnected region’

Ambassador Alice Wells mentioned that in recognition of Bangladesh’s role in supporting the Indo-Pacific strategy, the US recently announced $40 million in foreign military financing for Bangladesh.

Its aim is to enhance its coastal radar system, modernise and enhance its patrol boat fleet and provide training in support of expanded maritime interdiction, all part of the Bay of Bengal initiative, she added.

Asked if the US Indo-Pacific Strategy was aimed at countering China, she rejected the view and said it was a ‘very comprehensive strategy’ for a free and open Indian Ocean, involving military ties, trade and investment.

Pointing out that $26 trillion would be required for development in the region, she added, “This could not be done by one country alone.”

The US official insisted that Washington would like to see all countries involved in the exercise, but ensuing proper labour standards and avoiding predatory debt which had been faced by certain countries in the region.

In reply to a query about the elections in Bangladesh, the US official said during her discussions with the Bangladesh government officials, she had underscored the US support for free, transparent and contested elections.

 

“The choice of the Bangladesh people should be reflected in the election,” she said, “and so our efforts are to ensure that the conditions exist for this to happen.”

Ambassador Alice Wells expressed concern at the recently enacted Digital Security Act, saying there was need for the civil society and the government to discuss the law and to make any necessary changes.

“It was important to have a law in this regard, but not at the cost of democracy and development,” she said.

About the independence of the election commission in Bangladesh, she said it was important for the government and the commission to take all steps for a transparent, fair and contested election. “It is deeply in Bangladesh’s interests to have a free and far election.”

Referring to her visit to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, the US official commended the generosity of the government and the people of Bangladesh in responding to the humanitarian crisis. She said the US was committed to assisting Bangladesh in responding to the crisis and has provided over $345 million in humanitarian assistance specifically in Bangladesh since August 2017.

“We continue to call upon the government of Burma (Myanmar) to create conditions for the Rohingya to return voluntarily to their former places of residence in Burma in safety and with dignity,” she said, adding, “We also continue to call for accountability for those responsible for the violence in the Burmese security forces.”

Prior to her current assignment, Alice Wells also served as US ambassador to Jordan, the US minister-counselor for political affairs in Moscow, the political officer at the US embassy in New Dehli, in Islamabad and in Riyadh.

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