Bangladesh’s next general election will be held during the first week of January 2024, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina told a public rally Wednesday.
Hasina was reelected for a record third term in 2018, but her party’s landslide win was tainted by violence and allegations of vote-rigging.
During her speech in Cox’s Bazar, in southeastern Bangladesh, Hasina called on people to vote for her Awami League again.
“I urge you to cast your votes for the symbol of the boat again,” she said. A boat is the Awami League’s election symbol.
The opposition alliance alleged that in the 2018 vote, people they called pro-government thugs, with the help of police, illegally stuffed ballot boxes in polling booths across the country in the presence of election and security officials.
The alliance and pro-democracy activists rejected the results of the election and stories of the alleged rigging were reported across the global media.
In recent months, the United Nations and countries including the United States have urged the Hasina government to hold the next national election in a free and fair manner.
In October, on a visit to Bangladesh U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman affirmed the importance of upholding human rights and conducting “free, fair and peaceful” national elections in the country.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Nov. 7 that with respect to the “political process and the next election” in Bangladesh, the U.S. hoped for “a robust civic participation” and the people of the country would be able to “choose their own government through free and fair elections.”
“We urge the government of Bangladesh to create a safe environment for people to peacefully assemble and to voice their concerns, and relatedly, for opposition parties to campaign without facing intimidation and repression,” Price said.
A.K.M. Wahiduzzaman, a leader of the BNP, the country’s largest opposition party, who is now in exile in Malaysia, also worried about the potential fairness of the coming elections. “With the Bangladesh government in recent weeks beginning to crack down on dissidents as they did during the runup to the 2018 national elections, it is difficult to believe that the next national elections would be fair,” he said.
“The global community wants a free and fair election to be held in Bangladesh next time. But the government and the ruling party are not allowing the largest opposition party to exercise our political rights,” Wahiduzzaman told VOA.
“At least 4,000 BNP activists have been arrested under fake cases of violence and subversive activities in the past weeks while we have been conducting a nationwide campaign for a free, fair and all-inclusive national election. In such a situation, the world is going to witness another mock election in Bangladesh,” he said.
Awami League leaders say that the BNP claim that its activists are being framed in fake cases was not true.
“The BNP leaders are making hollow political statements. There is no basis of truth behind those statements,” Abdur Rahman, a member of the Awami League presidium told VOA.
“Their cadres are resorting to violence and threatening to destabilize the country, in the name of political activities. Law enforcement agencies are doing their duty. Following the law, the agencies are taking action against those opposition party activists,” he said.
However, Wahiduzzaman said the Hasina government cannot be trusted.
“Unless a neutral nonpolitical caretaker government is installed in the country in the coming months the next election would not be free and fair at all,” he told VOA.