US faults Bangladesh as election monitors scrapped

The United States has urged Bangladesh to do more to ensure a free election, blaming government foot-dragging on issuing visas for the cancelation of an international monitoring mission.

The Asian Network for Free Elections, an observation group funded by the US, called off its mission for next Sunday’s vote after Bangladesh did not promptly grant visas and credentials, the State Department said.

State Department spokesman Robert Palladino said the United States was “disappointed” by Bangladesh’s “inability” to provide visas in time and called on Dhaka to ensure that local non-governmental organizations receive credentials to monitor the vote.

Any democratic election must have “space for peaceful expression and assembly, for independent media to do its job covering electoral developments, for participants to have access to information and for all individuals to be able to partake in the electoral process without harassment, intimidation or violence,” Palladino said in a weekend statement.

“We encourage the government of Bangladesh to uphold its commitment to a democratic process by ensuring all Bangladeshis are free to peacefully express themselves and participate,” he said.

The election will be the latest rematch between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia, two women whose bitter, personal rivalry has dominated the country’s political landscape for three decades.

Sheikh Hasina is widely expected to triumph, amid accusations by civil society and rights groups that it has drifted toward authoritarianism by silencing dissent and the press through an onerous digital security law.

The United States has generally had a warm relationship with Bangladesh, seeing the moderate Muslim-majority country as an ally against extremism.