Momen calls US visa policy supportive to PM’s commitment

BSS || Shining BD

Published: 5/25/2023 10:30:00 AM

Bangladesh today said the new US visa policy was supportive to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s commitment for credible elections as Washington overnight issued a pre-emptive warning against turbulence centring the polls saying it would restrict visas to Bangladeshis who undermine elections.

“The new US policy rather made our position stronger to hold the free and fair election,” foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said in a media briefing expressing Dhaka's reaction to the Washington announcement yesterday.

He said the “policy is good, nothing to worry about it” and added it mounted no extra pressure on Bangladesh government while Dhaka’s relations with Washington remained excellent.

The foreign minister expected the new US visa policy would make cautious opposition political parties not to wage any violence over the elections.

“This visa restriction is not only for ruling party, for opposition (parties) as well,” he said, adding that the government doesn’t want arson, violence and destruction.

The United States said on Wednesday it would restrict visas to Bangladeshis who undermine elections, in a pre-emptive warning as fears mount of turbulence in the upcoming vote.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was supporting “free, fair and peaceful national elections” and would target either pro-government or opposition supporters in the deeply polarised nation.

US Secretary of State Antony J Blinken yesterday announced the new US visa policy 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.

Momen said his US counterpart had informed him about the new visa policy weeks ago when Blinken lauded highly Sheikh Hasina’s commitment to hold a free and fair election.

“This policy support Prime Minister Hasina’s stated commitment to hold free and fair election in Bangladesh and allow the US to act when Bangladeshi citizens or officials from all political parties undermine the critical demand of democracy,” Momen quoted a Blinken letter as saying in a letter to him.

Bangladesh, Momen said adding that Awami League always believes in voters.

In his yesterday’s announcement, Blinken said the policy includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services.  

“I am announcing this policy to lend our support to all those seeking to advance democracy in Bangladesh,” he said in a statement.

Foreign office statement

The foreign minister’s media briefing came shortly after the foreign ministry issued a statement saying Bangladesh government took note of the announcement made by the US Secretary of State on a visa restriction policy pursuant to the so-called 3C provision under the US Immigration and Act.

“Bangladesh would like to view this announcement in the broader context of its government’s unequivocal commitment to holding free and fair elections at all levels for upholding the country’s democratic process,” it said.

The statement said under the incumbent premier Bangladesh remained a democratic and politically stable nation with experience of holding a series of elections at national and local levels.

“Since the general elections in 2008, it is evident that the people of the country experienced unprecedented socio-economic development and empowerment due to continued political stability under the Awami League government,” it read.

“The people’s right to franchise is considered a State sanctity by the Awami League government that has a political legacy of unrelenting struggles and sacrifice for securing that right. The government attaches importance to freedom of assembly and association for all peaceful and legitimate democratic processes,” the statement read.

The electoral reform process in Bangladesh continues in a consultative manner involving all concerned stakeholders. As part of the process, photo-based voter ID cards were issued in response to the 10.23 million fraudulent voters enlisted by the BNP-led government.

The statement said the use of transparent ballot boxes has also been made the norm to establish confidence among the electorate as well as the polling officials and agents.

“The National Election Commission continues to be equipped with the wherewithal to carry out its functions in full independence, credibility and efficiency. The present government took the initiative for the first time to get the Chief Election Commissioner and Other Election Commissioners Appointment Act, 2022 enacted by the National Parliament,” it read.

The statement said pursuant to this law, a new Election Commission has been constituted and as mandated by the Bangladesh Constitution and Representation of the People Order, 1972, the entire executive machinery will remain at the Election Commission’s disposal to assist in the discharge of its responsibilities in a way as it may direct.

The statement also gave a statistical description of developments saying Bangladesh saw reduction of headcount poverty from 41.5 percent in 2006 to 18.7 percent in 2022, and of extreme poverty from 25.1 percent to 5.6 percent during the same period.

“Now an international role model for development, Bangladesh has become eligible for graduation from the UN Least Developed Country (LDC) status by 2026. These have been achieved due to the Awami League government being elected to office for three consecutive terms over the last fourteen years,” it read.

The foreign office said Bangladesh’s people were very much conscious of their democratic and voting rights and “there is no precedent for any government to continue in office having usurped people’s mandate through vote rigging”.

In keeping with that, the statement said the government apparatus will take necessary measures to prevent and address any unlawful practices or interference by any individual, group or entity to compromise the smooth and participatory conduct of the elections.

“The electoral process will remain under strict vigilance, including by international observers as accredited by the Election Commission. The government expects that the local undemocratic forces that resort to violence, arson and destruction would remain cautious and refrain from their misguided efforts to jeopardize the electoral process as mandated by the Constitution.”

The statement said it was entirely up to the people of Bangladesh to sustain the hard-earned democratic process, political stability and development gains in the country.

“The government appreciates that the international community including the US firmly stands by Hon’ble Prime Minister’s sustained commitment to ensure free and fair elections,” it read.

Shining BD