Global support lets Bangladesh PM withstand election worries

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina interacts with journalists in Dhaka, Bangladesh. AP
Congratulatory messages are flowing to Bangladesh\’s Prime Minister-elect Sheikh Hasina, ensuring she will withstand the reverberating calls to investigate serious allegations of widespread irregularities in Sunday\’s election that was dominated by her coalition.
Hasina is set to form her third consecutive government and fourth overall, and on Thursday the figurehead President M. Abdul Hamid invited her to form the Cabinet. The new members of Parliament took their oaths on Thursday though seven opposition members boycotted. The new Cabinet will take their oaths on Monday.
The international reaction to allegations of irregularities was not clear initially, but the scenario quickly settled after India\’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed the way and China followed, congratulating Hasina for the massive victory with her Awami League party-led alliance winning 288 seats in the 300-seat Parliament. The opposition-led alliance had only seven seats.
Saudi Arabia, Russia, Qatar, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Bhutan and Pakistan congratulated Hasina, while the United States and the European Union said they wanted to continue to cooperate with the government.
An analyst says the U.N. "would be happy" to see Hasina at the helm.
After coming to power in 2008 with a landslide victory, Hasina cautiously started building strategic partnerships with India, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia. She followed that trend again when she return to power in 2014.
Bangladesh joined a 34-nation Islamic military coalition to fight terrorism under the leadership of Saudi Arabia and is building its first nuclear power plant with Russia and India. Hasina bought two submarines from China for the first time and invited Japan to invest in infrastructure development, especially in power plants.
Bangladesh also became a member of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is a potential rival to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The European Union is a big export market, especially for Bangladesh\’s garment products. Bangladesh traditionally buys its regular arms for its defense from China.
The country earns about $30 billion a year from exports of its cheap garment products, mainly to the United States and the European Union countries, being the world\’s second-largest garment producer after China.
China is Bangladesh\’s largest import source too while India is the second largest import source.
"So we import from them and then we export to Western markets," M. Humayun Kabir, a former Bangladeshi ambassador to Washington and an analyst in international affairs, told The Associated Press in an interview.
And Bangladesh has other ties to the West beyond their markets. "Value-wise we believe in democracy. So, we are also value-wise connected to them," Kabir said.
And European nations and the U.S. are also home to large Bangladeshi diaspora communities. "These are people living in those countries becoming or contributing to those societies. So, this … is how we are connected to the Western countries," he said.
The U.S. expressed concern about the "credible reports of harassment, intimidation, and violence" but said it wanted continue to work with Bangladesh.
"The United States remains deeply invested in the future of Bangladesh and its democratic development. The United States is Bangladesh\’s largest foreign investor, largest single-country market for Bangladeshi exports, and home to a large community of Americans of Bangladeshi origin," the U.S. said in a statement after Sunday\’s election.
"Bangladesh\’s impressive record of economic development and respect for democracy and human rights are mutually reinforcing, and we look forward to continue working with the ruling government and opposition toward advancing these interrelated goals," it said.
Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman congratulated Hasina for winning the elections and expressed their best wishes for the success and prosperity.
Analyst Kabir said during her 10 years leading Bangladesh, Hasina has built a successful relationship with influential and strategically crucial countries and she has upgraded her image by hosting Rohingya Muslim refugees who were driven violently from neighboring Myanmar.
"Bangladesh is a good story in terms of development and progress," Kabir said. And her solid election victory shows that Bangladesh\’s economic development has political support of voters, Kabir said.
"So that story is now resonating well on the international community and that\’s why we are seeing (so many countries) are congratulating the prime minister for the outstanding performance in the election," he said.
Kabir said the international community wants to see Bangladesh as a stable nation. "We need to be more competitive for example, we need to do reforms in our labor sector for example, we need to also develop our infrastructure for example, we need to update our regulatory framework for example, because international investors always look at those issues, so now they\’re looking at Bangladesh from a positive frame," he said.
But Kabir said authorities should address the concerns of irregularities by the international community involving the election.
More than a dozen people were killed in election-related violence Sunday, and the election campaign was dogged by allegations of the arrests and jailing of thousands of Hasina\’s opponents. The most prominent of those jailed is Hasina\’s archrival, former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, who was deemed ineligible to run for office because of the corruption case her supporters say was politically motivated.
The Election Commission and other departments were accused of overlooking complaints of irregularities. Ahead of the election, a new digital security law was enacted that raised concern it would curb speech and media freedoms.
New York-based group Human Rights Watch urged an independent investigation into the alleged irregularities. The U.S., the EU and the U.N. all expressed their concerns.
"International donors, the United Nations and friends of Bangladesh should remember that elections are about the rights of voters, not those in power," Brad Adams, HRW\’s Asia director said in a statement.
In Zia\’s absence, opposition parties formed a coalition led by Kamal Hossain, a former member of Hasina\’s Awami League who was foreign minister under Hasina\’s father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Bangladesh\’s founding leader.
Hossain\’s small party, Gono Forum, does not have much popular support. Hasina and Zia, on the other hand, have much larger support bases and attract hundreds of thousands of supporters to their rallies.
A day after the election during a briefing with foreign journalists and election observers, Hasina came down heavily on the opposition. She refused a suggestion that she offer her political foes an olive branch.
"The opposition you see, who are they? The main party, BNP, it was established by a military dictator (Zia\’s husband, Ziaur Rahman) who introduced martial law in this country. There were no constitutional rights for the people," Hasina said.
She dismissed questions about the fairness of the election and said it was a "very peaceful election."
SOURCE: Associated Press
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