The Deputy may recall that arrangements for the 2014 elections in Bangladesh were disputed and were ultimately boycotted by the main opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which therefore does not currently hold any seats in parliament. Voter turnout was also very low.
The 2016 local elections, which took place with opposition participation, were tainted by violence and electoral irregularities.
A general election is due to be held in Bangladesh by 2019 at the latest and I am concerned at reports that have emerged in relation to the breakdown in a free and fair democratic process there. While Ireland does not have a resident diplomatic representation in Bangladesh Ireland’s Ambassador to India is accredited to Bangladesh and is monitoring the situation closely. In addition, officials at my Department engage regularly with the European External Action Service working through its EU delegation in Dhaka.
Members of the European Parliament Delegation for Relations with the Countries of South Asia had the opportunity to visit Bangladesh in February last. They expressed their concerns at the deterioration of the human rights situation in the country over the past few years, and took note of reports on hindrance to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and violence against women.
The Delegation invited the Bangladeshi authorities to step up efforts as regards these concerns and to facilitate the valuable work of civil society in addressing these issues. The members of the Delegation drew particular attention to their hope that the political environment would become less confrontational and hostile in coming months and urged the Bangladeshi authorities to facilitate the necessary conditions for inclusive, free and fair general elections in 2019.
I urge the Government of Bangladesh to take on board these concerns and to act upon them in order to help develop much-needed public confidence in future electoral processes in the country. I firmly believe that respect for, and the promotion of, human rights and democracy, including free, fair and inclusive elections in the period ahead, in accordance with international standards for democratic elections, will contribute to creating a more secure and prosperous Bangladesh.
I can assure the Deputy that my Department will continue to monitor the situation closely and maintain contact with actors on the ground in Bangladesh in the weeks and months ahead.