Election in Nepal, Maldives, deadlock in Bangladesh

Elections were held in several countries in South Asia this year and are also due in several more countries late this year or early next year. Nepal's election was held in March. Nepal is considered to be a very important country in the geopolitical context. The election was also held in the Maldives, an island nation in the middle of the Indian Ocean that led to the formulation of the Indo-Pacific strategy. Maldives is very important strategically and geopolitically and its election was significant in this region, especially from the perspective of the China-India and China-US conflict and competition centering the Indian Ocean. The island nation was also divided into pro-China and pro-India sides centring this election. Its president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party is openly known as pro-Indian, but the candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives and mayor of Male, Mohamed Muizzu is known as pro-China.

Incumbent president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih conceded defeat to Mohamed Muizzu in the run-off contest of the presidential election. Accepting the defeat, Solih embraced Muizzu and congratulated him. This token of congratulation will keep the unity among the people of Maldives despite the propaganda and campaigning before the polls. Maldives is a country with a small population where neighbouring India’s dominance has increased during the tenure of Mohamed Solih. According to media reports published from Male, Mohamed Muizzu who won the recent election was vocal against the presence of the Indian army at the port that is being built in cooperation with India at Uthuru Thilafalhu. He vowed during his polls campaign if he came to power he would send all foreign soldiers back home and would not compromise with such power that strains the national spirit of Maldives and wants to expand influence on the country.

No party had any allegation or regret over the election in Maldives. The Western world observed this election because of the China-India competition and its geostrategic location in the Indian Ocean. This time election was very competitive. No question arose on any election of Maldives at home and aboard in the past. The European Union and Commonwealth observation teams were present to observe the election directly and indirectly. The full report of the observation teams is yet to be made public, but there is no doubt that the election was of international standards.

Our neighbour in the north, Nepal faced no political crisis ahead and after the election. Political parties negotiated the formation of a government after the polls, but no question on the electoral process arose at home or by the international community. Nepal is flanked by the two big nuclear-power countries of this region. Yet, no allegation came up of external interference in Nepal’s election. There is the influence of India and China on the political parties in Nepal, but that created no political instability. Nepal is the youngest democratic country in this region and a shift in power has been taking place through fair elections since the country came out of civil war and monarchy.

Election is due in Bhutan late this year or early next year. Bhutan is a very small country and shares a common border with two powerful countries, yet this tiny Himalayan nation is trying to remain free from the influence of big nations in the international domain. Though it is a tiny country, the geostrategic location of Bhutan is very important amid the ongoing global competitive geopolitics. Pakistan is still in a political crisis, but an election will be held under a caretaker government early next year. An election is also supposed to be held in mid-2024 in our largest neighbour and the world’s biggest democracy, India.

The objective of giving a brief description of elections held recently or to be held soon in South Asian countries is that we are also going to see an election soon. Political dominion of the country heats up over the so-called democratic election in one of the most populous countries in South Asia, Bangladesh, ahead of every general election. Even foreign countries allegedly interfere in elections directly or indirectly, especially one of the last two elections saw direct interference and another one saw indirect interference and influence. And this time, the influence of the world’s great powers and their allies including our biggest neighbours are becoming visible in the upcoming election.

Among them though the US and its allies do not exhibit any sign of support to the main political parties including the ruling and opposition ones, such cannot be said about China, Russia and India. Many people, though, do not think India, which has influence in Bangladesh’s politics, is not giving unquestioning support to the ruling party as it did in the past.

We have been facing different crises about the upcoming election. Many analysts have been talking about them for the last two years. Many said there is no scope of repetition of 2014 or 2018 like situations in the next parliamentary elections. Still no attempt is being seen to create an environment, which is required for a fair election, or for the kind of election the US wants to see.

The US has already started implementing its visa policy. Bracketing Bangladesh with the countries around the globe where the US applies its visa policy over elections is really shameful for us. Though various policies of the US, especially its foreign policies, are not very acceptable to the so-called third world or developing countries, there are many reasons to think that its polls-related policies have been heartily accepted by the people of those countries. It must be noted that this policy is only about acceptable elections in case of Bangladesh. Not only about the upcoming elections, it seems the visa policy is being applied to people involved with the past two elections as well.

The policy covers people from the organisation that is responsible for holding the election and all other institutions, including the judiciary, administration, law enforcement agency, the media, political parties and leaders, who have responsibilities for organising a fair election. The US thinks this policy would help holding a fair and acceptable election that the people in Bangladesh aspire to.

The issue is not as simple as some people are trying to portray or interpret. This has far reaching consequences. I do not think it requires any lengthy explanation. The past two parliamentary elections in Bangladesh were not acceptable even in the barest minimum of global standards. As a result, if the next parliamentary election also fails like the past two elections to maintain the global standard, there is no doubt the reactions that would draw from the US and its allies will harm the image and various other fields of the country.

Though Bangladesh has a number of positive contributions in the global arena, the country lags behind in terms of elections, liberal democracy and political culture not only in the context of the subcontinent but also from other democratic countries in the South Asia. The people of Bangladesh also want to exercise their fundamental right to vote like the people of other countries in a free, fair, acceptable and competitive election. It is the responsibility of the people running the country to show respect to this fundamental right of the people and protect this country from any possible complications.

* Dr M Sakhawat Hossain is a polls analyst, former army officer and a senior research fellow at SIPG, NSU. He can be reached at [email protected]

* * This op-ed, originally appeared in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Hasanul Banna and Shameem Reza