The US State Department has announced a new visa policy in context of the forthcoming national parliamentary election in Bangladesh. The policy states that anyone who impedes the election and democratic process in Bangladesh will face visa restrictions. In an interview with Prothom Alo, political scientist Harun-or-Rashid talks about the possible impact of this visa policy on Bangladesh's politics.

The US has declared a new visa policy, in context of Bangladesh's forthcoming elections. What impact do you think this will have on Bangladesh's politics?

If our political leaders had discussions and dialogue with each other on their own volition to advance towards a free, fair and inclusive election, and not because of the restrictions of the US visa policy, that would have been proper, dignified. But the political environment in Bangladesh is rife with conflict, with very little scope or possibility for discussion or dialogue. All the leaders in our political arena (be they of the ruling party or the opposition), as well as all involved in the election, has some stake or the other in the US. The US is our major development partner too. These matters will play a role in taking their visa policy into cognizance.

The US maintains that they have come up with this visa policy in the interests of Bangladesh's development and a free and fair election. The new US visa policy will have a positive influence on ensuring the forthcoming national parliamentary election is fair and inclusive.

The US visa policy applies to all parties. Awami League has been in power for three terms. The last two national elections did not gain credibility. Has the visa policy put more pressure on Awami League?

Why will there be more pressure on Awami League? Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina from long ago has been saying that the election this time must be carried out in a free, fair and peaceful environment. BNP did not join the election in 2014. The government had to conduct that election amidst much adversity. BNP joined the 2018 election, but they lacked the required organisational preparation. And so they failed to fare well in the election. Questions were raised by various quarters about that election too. The prime minister is extremely conscious about this matter. She has had to face questions about this at home and abroad. That is why the prime minister's stance is that the elections this time must be fair and credible, no matter what the results may be. No matter what the public mandate may be, she will accept it, she said, even if that meant going into the opposition. Even without the US visa policy, the fact remains that the prime minister had consciously taken the political decision from way back to ensure that the next election be fair.

BNP is carrying out a movement in demand of a caretaker government. Has the US visa policy thrown BNP off balance?

Many are of the opinion that the election will not be credible if BNP does not join. I differ. If BNP does not join, the overall votes may decrease. The US has announced this visa policy with much caution. It applies to all players in the political field (government and non-government).

If BNP politically takes a decision that even then they will not join the election, the US cannot force them to do so. But other than BNP, if the other parties contest in the election and the people vote for them, even if the rate of voting may be lower, the election will still be credible and have legitimacy. BNP will lose its international friends if it does not join the forthcoming election. It will be suicidal for them not to join this election.

The Gazipur City Corporation election was relatively free. BNP did not join, but even so the ruling party candidate lost. Is this not a reflection of the public's no-confidence in the government?

The Gazipur City Corporation election was free and peaceful. The US stance still hadn't quite come out into the open then. That indicates that the government is committed to fair elections. It would not be correct to say that the Awami League candidate lost in Gazipur. Jahangir Alam, the son of the newly elected mayor Jayeda Khatun, said my contest was against the individual, but I am a member of the Awami League family too.

Many of BNP's voters voted for Jayeda. Even though BNP and a part of Awami League voted in favour of Jayeda Khatun, the difference of votes was not wide.

BNP has taken organisational steps against its men who contested for the post of councilor. Even then, 11 of the councilors were elected. That shows that those who are in politics want to join the election. Under normal circumstances, boycotting an election is in no way acceptable. Elections should be seen as part of the movement.

The government adopts a stern stance when BNP takes to the streets. And BNP, in turn, is adamant against participating in elections under a party government. There has been political violence too. There are just a few months left for the national election. What is the way out of this crisis?

There have been minor clashes here and there, but I do not apprehend any major incidence of violence. There is competition between the two major parties, there is rivalry. It is because of the friction between the two parties that they could not come to an understanding at their own initiative. Now a sort of compulsion has emerged because of the pressure from outside.

History is not repeated. We have to move forward. There is only one thing before the government and the country now, and that is to build up a democratic institutional framework and to strengthen the existing democratic institutions. This requires cooperation from both the ruling party and the opposition. It is not possible for the election commission alone to hold a free election.