Who are being brought in as foreign “observers”

Election Commission
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An organisation named Election Monitoring Forum (EMF) has brought four foreigners to the country and introducing them as election observers. The four “observers” held a meeting with election commission too. However, none of the four are members of any recognised election observation body.

Basically, the Election Monitoring Forum (EMF) has come into focus after its meeting with the election commissioner on Sunday. Questions have been raised about the objectives of the organisation, who are behind this organisation and what is the identity people being introduced as election observers.

Earlier, another organisation, SAARC Human Rights Foundation, drew flak when it brought several foreigners and introduced them as “international election observers” during the 11th parliamentary election in 2018. SAARC Human Rights Foundation’s secretary general Abed Ali is the chairman of EMF.

The four foreigners who came to Dhaka at the invitation of this forum held meetings with Jatiya Party (JaPa), JSD and several other political parties and cabinet members.

According to Abed Ali, the four election observers are citizens of the US, Ireland, China and Japan but they are not representatives of the governments of those country or any other independent election observation organisations. Two of the four are social workers, who have come to Bangladesh on their own, to observe the pre-election situation in Bangladesh.

Speaking about whether the four foreigners have any experience of observing elections to Prothom Alo, EMF chairman Abed Ali on Monday said, “Basically they are journalists. They may do business or anything else as indiviuals. Two are journalists and four are social workers. Six people were supposed to come but four turned up here. A journalist is an observer.”

Election Monitoring Forum, a body of 56 election observation organisations, has got the election commission’s registration in 2018. But their registration with the EC expired on 17 July. Currently, none of the observation organisations are registered with the EC.

Who are the four foreigners?

When EMF chairman Abed Ali was asked about the details of the four foreigners, he provided some information, including photograph of a ‘visiting card’ about them on WhatsApp. The photo has information about the name and identity of Nick Paul. It was said in the visiting card that Nick Paul is the ‘political editor’ of UK Reporter, a UK based online news portal.

Later, Prothom Alo checked UKreporter.co and found that Nick Paul is the ‘political editor’ of that news portal. He is an experienced producer of news and current affairs and “documentary programme”.

Another identity (ID) card provided by Abed Ali shows the name of certain Terry Easley. He is the managing director of US-based CBS TV. However, the ID that Abed Ali provided to Prothom Alo expired in January 2000.

Other than this, Abed Ali sent the name of two more persons in WhatsApp. They are: Andy Lin, a political analyst and social worker from China, and Yusuku Shugu, a political analyst and social worker from Japan. Abed Ali did provided no details on these two persons.

There is a profile of a certain Terry Easley on LinkedIn, a social media platform for professional. The profile has no image. According to the LinkedIn profile, Terry Easley served as managing editor for CBS and Los Angeles Radio (2001-2002). Along with ID card, Abed Ali sent name and details of four other persons, in which Terry L Easley was mentioned as a political analyst and a vice chairman of US-based Tenant Finance International. According to data available online, Tenant Finance International is based in the UK, not the US.

According to the website of the company (https://tenetuk.com/), Terry L Easley is the chairman of Tenant Finance International and he is a registered investment banker.

On the other hand, the chairman of Election Monitoring Forum Abed Ali is from Brahmanbaria, but he grew up in Chattogram. He said he completed Kamil degree from Jamiya Ahmadia Sunnia Kamil Madrasah, Chattogram and also studied at Chattogram City College.

According to the website of Election Monitoring Forum, former election commissioner Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury is advisor of this group. He was a commissioner in the election commission led by KM Nurul Huda. Questions arose at home and abroad on the 2018 election, which was held under that commission.

Besides, former election commissioner Mohammad Shahnewaz is one of the eight advisors. He was a commissioner in the election commission led by Kazi Rakibuddin. The one-sided election in 2014 was held in under this commission.

According to its website, Dhaka University of Engineering and Technology vice-chancellor Habibur Rahman, Islamic Arabic University vice-chancellor Abul Kalam Azad, BUET vice-chancellor Abdul Jabbar Khan, Bangabandhu Digital University vice-chancellor Mahfuzul Islam, businessperson Iqbal Bahar, bankers Sultana Razia and Tanvirul Islam were the directors of the forum.

Speaking in government ‘tone’

The Election Monitoring Forum, including four foreign citizens, held a meeting with the Election Commission last Sunday. Speaking to the newspersons after the meeting, US citizen Terry El Isle said that the demand of the caretaker government is unconstitutional and illegal in the current context. They think the current commission is capable of holding a fair election.

He made these remarks on his own. Nobody even asked him any question regarding the caretaker government.

Some photos of chairman of the organisation Abed Ali after the meeting went viral on social media Facebook. He was seen handing over a replica of the boat (Awami League’s electoral symbol) to the prime minister in one of the photos and he was talking to the home minister in another photo.

Besides, a letter from 2021 also went viral on Facebook. The letter said the SAARC Human Rights Foundation was using the logo of SAARC, which is not approved.

The Election Monitoring Forum organised the discussion supporting the EC’s decision to use EVMs (electronic voting machine) in 150 constituencies. Apart from that, the SAARC Human Rights Foundation and the Election Monitoring Forum organised an event in Dhaka eight months after the national election of 2018. It was said in the event that, “Ideal citizens should not raise questions over issues like national elections.” In addition, both the organisations termed the election as fair after the last national election.

Asked about the BNP’s allegation that the Election Monitoring Forum is working for the government, Abed Ali said, “Are the people who talk against the government BNP sympathisers? We wanted to hold a meeting with the BNP as well. BNP cancelled it despite giving us time initially.”

Speaking regarding the photos that went viral on social media, Abed Ali said, “Former minister Nazmul Huda once went to the Gonobhaban to meet the prime minister. He too presented the prime minister with a replica of a boat. And I have never been in politics. We have never said that the SAARC Human Rights Foundation is registered with the SAARC. However, the process is underway.”

Questionable past

After the national election of 2018, the Election Monitoring Forum said they had observed elections in some 17,165 polling centres of 239 constituencies. They said the election was held in a peaceful, friendly and festive environment.

There were not many international observers in that poll. The SAARC Human Rights Foundation brought some foreign observers, including Canadian citizen Tanya Foster. They mentioned that the election was very fair.

However, Tanya Foster gave a different statement to Reuters later. This then highly discussed issue also came up in the book titled Nirbachannama: Nirbachan Commisone Amar Dingulo (My days with the Election Commission) by late election commissioner Mahbub Talukdar.

Mahbub Talukdar wrote in his book, “What happened with a foreign observer in the polls can be termed as an observation scam. It has been learnt that a so-called organisation named SAARC Human Rights Foundation, which has no relation with the SAARC, has brought some observers from Canada, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.”

He further wrote, “Tanya Foster, policy analyst of a regional government in Canada, was in that team. She said she learnt from the Bangladeshis living in Canada that an organisation named SAARC Human Rights Foundation is looking for foreign election observers. ‘Later, I inquired about the qualification needed to be a member of the election observer panel thinking that it would be a wonderful experience. Later, I applied to the SAARC and the election commission,’ she added. She further said her daughter also joined the panel later. They didn’t have any experience working as election observers prior to the national election of 2018.”

Regarding the SAARC Human Rights Foundation, Mahbub Talukdar wrote in his book, “It is clearly a fake organisation.”

Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar said the foreign observers were brought during the national election of 2018 to serve a special purpose. He fears that the same is happening this time as well.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, he said, “Hearing the statement of the four foreign citizens it seems that a vested quarter has brought them for some special purpose. People’s confidence in the election commission will further decline if such persons are appointed as ‘election observers’ like 2018.”