Friday, January 31, 2014

Media coverage of parliament's first day

The front pages of Bangladesh's English language newspapers published on Thursday morning, the day after the first day of parliament, provide an interesting indication of how the media is likely to respond to the country's new government and in particular its parliament.

The editors of New Age, Daily Star and Dhaka Tribune have all been highly critical of the 'elections' calling them a 'farce' or using similar such descriptive language. (I have not followed the editorial lines of the Independent or the Sun, the other two relevant English language papers.)

Yet, apart from New Age*, you would barely know that there was any questions about the legitimacy of the new parliament.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A look at political violence in Bangladesh

With the 5 January 2014 'elections' unable to provide the government the requisite political or moral legitimacy to govern the country, Awami league politicians have focused on shoring up their right to govern by pointing to the need to deal with 'terrorism' committed by the opposition parties as shown by the pre-election vehicle burning and post-election communal attacks.

This strategy has also had the added benefit of helping the government to help justify the joint force operations to remove 'terrorism' from the country, which has since the elections resulted in a spate of deaths of opposition leaders and activists.

The Awami League has of course every right to criticise the opposition parties for their apparent role in a political pre-election strategy which resulted in the burning to death of at least 25 members of the public. And whilst, it is unlikely that the communal attacks on Hindu villages were part of any opposition political strategy, it seems clear that the opposition party members/supporters were involved in many of the attacks - and at the very least both the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami can be held responsible for their failure to reign in their supporters from what were pretty foreseeable acts of violence.

That being said it is also important to recognise the nature of state violence.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Did the European Parliament get it right?

The European Parliament passed a resolution on Thursday 16 January 2014, which was wide-ranging. The full text is set out below. Underneath the text, I have set out a number of comments. 
The European Parliament,
– having regard to its resolutions on Bangladesh, in particular those of 21 November 2013 on Bangladesh: human rights and forthcoming elections(1) , of 23 May 2013 on labour conditions and health and safety standards following the recent factory fires and building collapse in Bangladesh(2) , of 14 March 2013 on the situation in Bangladesh(3) , and of 17 January 2013 on recent casualties in textile factory fires, notably in Bangladesh(4) ,
– having regard to the Declaration by High Representative Catherine Ashton on behalf of the European Union on the Legislative Elections in Bangladesh of 9 January 2014 and the Statement by High Representative Catherine Ashton on the preparation for general elections in Bangladesh of 30 November 2013,

Thursday, January 16, 2014

European Union, the GSP and a 'serious and systematic violation' of human rights principles?

This post follows through from my article today in the New Age newspaper

Article 25 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights states:
Every citizen shall have the right ....
(b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors;
The UN Human Right Committee is the body established to monitor state's compliance with the covenant, and it produces General Statements which are rulings on legal interpretation of articles in the covenant. In 1996 it published such a statement on the meaning of Article 25. This states, inter alia, that the right to vote
‘lies at the core of a democratic government based on the consent of the people’ and that states must take steps to ensure that ‘citizens have an effective opportunity to enjoy’ it.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sajeeb Wazed, transcript of interview with foreign journalists

On 6 January, immediately after Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister gave a formal interview with foreign journalists, at Gono Bhavan, Sajeeb Wajed (her son, possibly leader in waiting, and key organiser of the Awami League election campaign) entered the room, and started talking to a small group of journalists, which I joined after a few minutes. A short news report on this is set out here.

Here is an audio recording and transcript of the impromptu press conference that took place is below. To see a 'fact-check' and my comments about what was said, see here

Please note that small sections of the audio are not good, but those parts last for only a few seconds.

Sajeeb Wazed's interview: fact check and commentary

This is a 'fact check' and commentary on the impromptu press conference which Sajeeb Wazed, the prime minister's son and a key member of the Awami League campaign team, conducted with a number of of foreign journalists on 6 January, the day after the election, and immediately after the press conference given by the prime minister.

You can read and hear the whole interview here, and a news report here.

The numbers at the beginning of the paragraphs blow refers back to the interview transcript
A1: Dialogue and terrorism: Is it right for Sajeeb to blame lack of proper dialogue on BNP? In my view neither party was that interested in dialogue. But Khaleda Zia’s failure to take up Hasina’s offer to come to her house, referred to by Sajeeb, was a significant failure (as I said at the time) – and the AL can rightfully point to this as an indicator of a reluctance on the part of the BNP to find a solution to the impasse other than one which involved total victory on its part.

He goes onto say, ‘If the other party is not willing to engage and purely focus on terrorism, then there is nothing you can do.’ This suggests that AL had been willing to dialogue when there were no hartals and sieges (which was most of 2013 until the end of October – which was when the hartals started again) but this was not the case. 

BNP, Jammat should be banned: Sajeeb Wazed

Here is a news report I wrote following an interview given by the prime minster's son to a number of foreign journalists on 6 January. An audio recording of the whole interview along with the transcript can be found here, along with a detailed fact-check/commentary on what Sajeeb Wazed said.
BNP should be made ‘illegal’, the prime minister’s son, Sajeeb Wazed told a small group of foreign reporters in an impromptu wide ranging interview at Gono Bhavan that took place one day after the election. 
Speaking about BNP’s violence he said, ‘Several of their leaders including Khaleda Zia’s advisers have gone on BBC saying, declaring war in Bangladesh, and that is exactly  what they have done. We are talking Molotov cocktails, civilian buses on fire with people in them.’  
When asked whether he therefore thought BNP should ‘continue to exist as a party, as from what you are saying it should be illegal’, he said, ‘I agree with you.’ 

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ministers and their ministries

Here is a list of the ministers and their ministers, as well as the advisers to the prime minister

Cabinet Division
- minister: Sheikh Hasina

Public Administration
- minister: Sheikh Hasina

Defence Ministry
- minister: Sheikh Hasina

Armed Forces Division
- minister: Sheikh Hasina

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The government's loyal opposition

Now brace yourself - and you will need to having read my last post on the 'unelected' ministers.

Now moving to the government's 'loyal' opposition.

Perhaps a little bit too loyal.

Remember the Jatiya party. It has been named as the official opposition. It received 33 seats in parliament.

Its new leader Raushan Ershad - appointed as leader so it seems by the Awami League itself - has been made leader of the opposition.

Most ministers 'elected' in uncontested pols

Now this is truly wonderful!

25 out of the 29* full ministers in the cabinet became members of parliament in uncontested 'elections'. That is to say there was no person to stand against them and there was no election in their constituency.

Only 4 ministers actually became an MP through an 'election'. These ones were:

Ambassadors to attend cabinet swearing-in ceremony

Interestingly, it appears that Western government ambassadors will be attending the swearing-in ceremony of the new Cabinet today.

The US embassy Dhaka Spokesperson, Kelly McCarthy said that the US ambassador will be attending, though she said his presence does not affect the US view about the lack of credibility of the elections themselves. She said that that the US does not recognise governments, as such, but only countries. This is the statement she gave me:
It is not a question of America’s recognizing or accepting the government that was just sworn in. America recognizes the country of Bangladesh, and that has not changed. America’s commitment to supporting the people of Bangladesh remains undiminished.

UK Aid to Bangladesh - what is actually going on?

There appears some confusion in the media in Bangladesh about the UK government's aid support to th country.

On 10 January, New Age broke the story that the UK, US and Dutch governments, along with the UNDP, were reviewing whether to continue their support for projects involving the Bangladesh parliament. The Daily Telegraph, published a similar story the following day focusing only on the UK review only.

The articles both only dealt with parliamentary projects - that is work being undertaken with the Bangladesh parliament - and the articles made it clear that it was only dealing with, in aid terms, a small amount of money. The Daily Telegraph article stated:
UK Aid has budgeted to spend £56.3 million over a five-year period on the two parliamentary support projects that are now under review, with over £12 million remaining to be spent this and next year. Not all of the project’s money is spent on parliamentary activities.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The European Union and the Jamaat

The Daily Star had a story today that caught my eye, titled, 'Cut ties with Jamaat: European, Asian diplomats call upon Khaleda, express reservations about Tarique's speeches, ask govt not to harass BNP leaders'

It was these paragraphs that I noted:
Observing the recent violent state of politics in Bangladesh, the European and Asian diplomats have drawn the conclusion that the BNP's key ally Jamaat-e-Islami is a terrorist organisation and, therefore, the BNP as a democratic party should not associate with a party like the Jamaat. 
“It appears to us that for the last few months, whatever the Jamaat did in the name of demonstration, they have resorted to terrorism,” said a European diplomat who has met Khaleda Zia after the January 5 election. He requested anonymity.

US Senate foreign relation committee seeks new elections

US Senator Robert Menendez, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has sent two nearly identical letters to Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia urging them to 'end the current deadlock, eschew street violence, and begin negotiations on a path toward free, fair, and inclusive elections.'

They state:
The ongoing political deadlock has had serious economic consequences and will further weaken the confidence of international investors. To end this downward spiral, I strongly urge you to begin negotiations on new elections that are free, fair, peaceful and inclusive.
The vamping up of US pressure is to be expected - though this is from the legislative part of the state, not the executive.

This pressure is unlikely to exert very much pressure on the government, which seems willing to use its current unassailable position to remain in power, without being tested by proper elections.

You can see the two letters here

Russia: Bangladesh government is the will of the voters

The ministry of Foreign affairs of the Russian Federation joins India in issuing a supportive statement to the Bangladesh government - 
It is regrettable that the voting was put under boycott by main opposition forces of the country. 
Russia confirms its readiness to continue constructive partner cooperation with the government which will be formed on the basis of the will of the Bangladeshi voters. 
At the same time, we hope that the authorities and the opposition will not overstep the boundaries of the constitutional field to ensure internal political stability and strengthen the democratic institutes of friendly Bangladesh.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

European Union calls for genuine dialogue for holding elections

The European Union has just issued its response to the election. It specifically refers to the need for elections, though does not state any kind of time frame for these.You can see all the other statements issued here 

The EU statement is set out below
Declaration by the High Representative Catherine Ashton on behalf of the European Union on the Legislative Elections in Bangladesh

The High Representative has taken note of the preliminary results and of reports of low turnout for the 10th Parliamentary elections held in Bangladesh on 5 January.

Human Rights Watch: nothing democratic about crackdown

Human Rights Watch has published a further press release about the current political and human rights situation in the country.

Titled, 'Elections Further Tainted by Arbitrary Arrests ‘Nothing Democratic’ About Ongoing Crackdown on Critics

Here are some excerpts
“While in some cases the government has acted appropriately to stop violence by some opposition forces, this spate of arrests is part of a pattern of weakening critics, limiting dissent, and consolidating ruling party power,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Awami League claims that it is the leading democratic party in Bangladesh, but there is nothing democratic about this kind of widespread crackdown on critics.”

Hasina's press conference to international media

Below is the both the transcript of the press conference which the Bangladesh prime minister had with foreign journalists on Monday 6 January - as well as an audio recording of the event itself. 

I am publishing it here - do note there is nothing secret about this - as I think it is quite instructive. 

My comments about what was said are at the bottom of this post. 

(For those concerned about balance, do see my 'Truth, lies and misrepresentations
concerning a speech given by Khaleda Zia
Q1: After this contested issue around this whole election, do you think there will be another election quite soon as has been suggested from the Awami League as well as the BNP side?  
A1: Well you see our main opposition group did not participate in the election. I tried my best. I offered everything, that if you join we can constitute a government considering of all the political parties, represented in the parliament. Even I offered any ministry our leader of opposition wants and we can hold constitutional election. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Further international statements on election

Further statements have been issued by different countries on the Bangladesh election. I have already published ones from US, UK, Canada, India, Commonwealth and the UN.

Here are the ones from Germany, France and Australia.

The Australian one was quite strong stating that 'the government and the opposition must take up their shared responsibility to hold a new, fully contested and transparent election as soon as possible'. Germany also called for 'inclusive, peaceful and credible democratic elections' though did not say anything about timing. And France gave probably the weakest statement out of all of them, simply calling for dialogue

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Bangladesh election day, and beyond

This page contain a rolling blog containing news, commentary, and analysis on Bangladesh's 'election' day, 5 January 2014 until 7 May.

For subsequent comment and analysis on post election Bangladesh go to to the home page and see separate posts.

To see page dealing with the earlier period of 30 December to 4 May, go here
To see page dealing with the earlier period of 23-29 December, go here
To see page dealing with the earlier period of 18-22 December, go here.


3.10 pm: Is the new crackdown starting?
There has been much talk about a new crackdown starting after the election - not that of course there was not one before the election. And Sheikh Hasina yesterday in her press conference to Bangladesh media talked about coming down hard on 'terrorist activities'. Since 'the opposition' and 'terrorists' are not almost interchangeable words in the Awami League and the prime minister's discourse, so a crackdown on violence means, of course, a crackdown on the BNP/Jamaat.