New US visa policy: Shame on the politicians!

The US recent announcement of its new visa policy has stirred the Bangladesh political arena. Politicians, civil society members, analysts, journalists and others have been interpreting the matter in their own ways. But the interpretation of political parties, especially the ruling Awami League and BNP is interesting to an extent. Before going into details of the assessment by the politicians, let us see what there is in the US visa restrictions.

Under this policy, the United States will be able to restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. This includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security forces.

The US said actions that undermine the democratic election process include vote rigging, voter intimidation, the use of violence to prevent people from exercising their right to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, and the use of measures designed to prevent political parties, voters, civil society, or the media from disseminating their views.

One can raise a question as to why the US issued the new visa policy.

During a regular briefing, while answering queries at the department of state on Thursday, spokesperson for the United States, Matthew Miller, said, "We believe that democracy is the most enduring means to advance peace, prosperity, and security. It’s why we made the announcement."

The USA may have issued the visa restrictions for the sake of their own interests or on the basis of their policies. Whatever the reason may be, one can't deny the fact that a political crisis is prevailing in the country regarding the next parliamentary election slated to be held in December this year or January next year. Two major political parties --the ruling Awami League and Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) stick to their guns. Awami League said the next parliamentary election will be held in accordance with the constitution and under the prime minister Sheikh Hasina. Menwhile, BNP insists they will not join the election under the prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

No matter whether BNP joins the election or not, the election will be held in time, said Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader on different occasions. BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said they would oust the government and the next parliamentary election will be held under a caretaker government.

The US all of a sudden issued visa restrictions at a time when the two political camps are unlikely to budge from their respective stances. However, both Awami League and BNP are taking the matter into cognizance in view of their own interests.

AL general secretary and road transport and bridges minister Obaidul Quader at an event on Saturday said BNP is in trouble centering the new US visa policy.

In a statement on Friday, BNP secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir has said the new visa policy targeting the next election has reflected the people’s long-standing demand for restoration of voting rights.

For the last few days, leaders of different level in Awami League and BNP have been delivering statements as if the US visa restrictions have gone in their favour. But if we take the last two elections of 2014 and 2018 into consideration, even the ruling Awami League has admitted that those elections were not good and they want to hold a better election this time.

The party being at the helm, has a responsibility to hold an inclusive election. The main opposition BNP also has a responsibility. Ignoring their responsibilities, they are blaming each other. It does not seem that the politicians are particularly ashamed about the issuance of the new US visa restrictions. The political parties in power in our country carry out excesses against their opponents in such a way, that they find no way to leave power for fear of repercussions.

After the fall of Ershad, all politicians and the general people expected democracy would thrive in future. Bangladesh will not be derailed from the path of democracy. But no matter what, our politicians never failed to destroy the democratic environment, putting the country into deep crisis. The crisis emerged in 1996, 2006 and now. For what purpose did the US issued the visa restrictions? We don't know whether there are geopolitical interests behind this or not, but it is true that a fair and inclusive election is necessary.

We must keep in mind that there is right or wrong. If any powerful country imposes something unfairly, we must speak up against it. After all, all of our political parties should act responsibly to ensure voting rights of all people, no matter who goes to power. Sooner our politicians understand, the better for the country and the people.