AL not admitting to pressure, BNP cautious

Logo of Awami League and BNP

The Awami League government is under a certain degree of pressure with the imposition of the US visa policy. The top leaders of the ruling AL, however, are not admitting to this pressure. They maintain that there are political motives behind this move of the US. BNP, on the other hand, blames the government singularly for this predicament. The party is also observing the present situation cautiously.

BNP, in a one-point movement for the resignation of the government and elections under a non-partisan government, feels that this measure of the US may create a situation more favourable for them politically. However, certain central leaders of Awami League see the US step as an interference in Bangladesh’s internal affairs.

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Senior minister of the government and Awami League presidium member Abdur Razzaque, speaking to Prothom Alo on Saturday, said, “The US step regarding Bangladesh’s election is shameful for the country. It would be shameful for any country. But there may be political motives behind this.” This Awami League leader blames BNP and Jamaat for this step taken by the US.

On the other hand, senior leaders of BNP maintain that it is the Awami League government that has brought Bangladesh into confrontation with the international community. Speaking to Prothom Alo over mobile phone on Saturday night, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said that the government is singularly responsible for the US visa restrictions. This is humiliating and shameful for the country.

The US announced its new visa policy on 4 May, aimed at ensuring free and fair elections in Bangladesh. Four months after that, on behalf of the US it was stated on Friday that steps had now been taken up to impose the visa restrictions on those who were responsible for or involved in obstructing the democratic election process. These individuals included members of the law enforcement agencies, the ruling party as well as the opposition political parties.

Earlier, in December 2021, the US had imposed sanctions on seven officers of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). Among these seven was the Inspector General of Police (IGP) at the time, Benazir Ahmed. Also under those sanctions is Chowdhury Abdullah Al-Mamun, RAB DG at the time and now the police IG.

AL questions if the measures stop here

Top leaders of Awami League feel that the initiation of the US visa policy as well as the European Union not sending observers to the forthcoming election, was more or less predictable. They say that the situation can be tackled unless further restrictions come from the US or the western world. However, if any further significant restrictions come before the election, the situation may turn complex.

Several sources in Awami League and the government say that Awami League is concentrating on one thing only and that is to hold the election on schedule. No matter what restrictions the US has imposed or how the opposition tries to thwart the election, they are determined to hold the election on time. The AL leaders want to send out the message that the imposition of the US restrictions won’t make any significant difference to politics.

Prothom Alo on Saturday spoke to seven central leaders of Awami League and two senior ministers about the initiation of the US visa policy and the EU’s decision not to send election observers. Most of them were unwilling to openly comment on these issues. However, they feel that the statement made by the prime minister Sheikh Hasina in New York more or less reflects the stand of the government and the party on the present situation. The stand of the party and the government will be clearer, once the prime minister returns from her US and UK trip.

Ministers and leaders of the ruling party feel that the actual impact of the visa policy is more psychological than practical. The names of those who have been placed under this restriction have not been revealed. This has created curiosity among government officials as to who are faced with the visa restrictions. Those in power are conscious about not allowing alarm to be created at any level in the administration. There is also curiosity among Awami League’s mid-level and grassroots leaders regarding the visa policy. Then again, a number of important leaders and ministers feel that they may be the ones facing the visa restrictions. Undeniably, a degree of pressure that been created.

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‘No alternative but to hold the election’

Another consideration strongly prevails within the government and Awami League. They feel that the reach of the US visa restriction may expand and new restrictions may also be imposed. No matter what the US may do, there is little chance of coming to an understanding with them before the election. So the top leaders of Awami League are concentrating on how to tackle the existing situation rather than waste time in worrying about what is out of their control.

Many of the ruling party leaders feel that after the US, if the European Union imposes sanctions or takes up some stringent measures, this will be precarious. They feel that it will be difficult to keep the situation under control if something like this occurs. But government sources say that while the EU is not sending election observers, they will not apply any economic or political pressure.

A central leader of Awami League, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo that Awami League is not thinking about anything else other than holding the election on time. So no matter about the visa policy or any other restrictions that may come, there is no scope to backtrack. The US visa policy and other pressures from the West may boost the morale of BNP and the other opposition parties in the movement and they may want to display their strength on the streets.

Another matter is under consideration of Awami League’s policymakers. Sources say that there are considerations underway to ‘lure’ individuals from BNP to join the forthcoming election. Some leaders feel they should wait a little longer. Many are in a dilemma. Many may step back in view of the US visa restrictions being implemented. In such circumstances, Awami League central leaders are thinking of stepping up the election campaign even before the election schedule is announced and mobilising voters to join in the voting. The party’s strategy will be sorted out once the Awami League president Sheikh Hasina returns from the US.

BNP cautious, though morale boosted

The visible measures being adopted by the US and certain western countries regarding democracy and human rights in Bangladesh are having a negative impact on the government. The leaders feel this will instigate BNP’s leaders and activists to be more active in their movement.

However, a member of BNP’s standing committee told Prothom Alo that it may seem like the steps taken by the US and western countries is going in favour of the opposition movement, but it is to be seen just how far these foreign quarters will go.

The BNP leader feels that the interests of powerful countries are involved in this region due to geopolitical reasons. On one side there is the western world including the US, and on the other there is China, Russia and India. Bangladesh is caught up in the tussle over the geopolitical interests of these countries. The Awami League government had made the country a part of this tussle so that it may remain in power. This may prove dangerous for the country. Several senior leaders of BNP have also said that the election system has collapsed in this country. The state of human rights is deplorable. Taking advantage of this situation, it is hard to say how far the US and the western countries may proceed with their interest shown in the Bangladesh elections. That is why BNP is also keeping a cautious watch on the west, including the US.

BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, speaking to Prothom Alo, has said, “After 52 years of Bangladesh being independent, the US has come up with the visa policy over the question of free and fair elections. This is not what our country deserves.” He feels that BNP or the other opposition political parties are not responsible for this situation.

When asked if BNP feels that the US measures will lead to a free and far election. Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir replied that the US has imposed their visa restrictions for free and fair elections in Bangladesh. But there has been no change as yet in the government position regarding free and fair elections. It is up to the government what measures they will take. BNP will continue its movement along with the people.

Awami League’s counter allegations

The Awami League government had made an efforts to soften the US stance. However, the ruling party leaders doubt if those efforts have made any difference. They are not even sure how far the US will go. They are proceeding towards the election with the understanding that pressure from outside will increase as the elections draws nearer. Awami League presidium member Abdur Razzaque told Prothom Alo that false information fed to the foreign quarters have led to this situation.

All adamant in their respective stands

Despite pressure from the West, including the US, Awami League and BNP remain adamant in their respective stands. There are no signs of either party changing their stand regarding the system of election. Both parties are continuing with their programmes and counter programmes on the streets. Under such circumstances, apprehensions grow as to whether there eventually will be an inclusive election. Fears of violence are on the rise too.

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