WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs; Representative Michael T. McCaul (R-TX), the Committee’s Ranking Member; Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA), the Chairman of the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee; Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL), the Ranking Member of the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee; Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI); and Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) today called on the Trump Administration to address threats to democracy in Bangladesh. In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the members highlighted reports of election fraud, improper election rigging and voter suppression surrounding Bangladesh’s December 2018 election, urging the Department to take action.
“There will be a series of elections taking place this year in Asia, including in Afghanistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. It is crucial that the United States demonstrate its continued commitment to and respect for democratic institutions, beginning with Bangladesh,” the members wrote.
Full text of the letter can be found here and below:
Dear Mr. Secretary:
We are gravely concerned by the negative trajectory of democracy in Bangladesh and request an outline of how the Department intends to respond to this trend, particularly in light of serious allegations that the outcome of the December 2018 elections lacked credibility. As you know, supporting democracy, rule of law, and human rights in the Indo-Pacific region is critical to advancing U.S. interests, and reports of widespread irregularities in Bangladesh’s recent elections seriously threaten those important interests.
Bangladesh has a strong and proud democratic tradition, so we were particularly dismayed that the campaign leading up to the election was marred by violence, mass arrests, and a crackdown on free speech. The Awami League claimed 96 percent of the seats contested -- more than the party and its allies won in 2014, when a key opposition party boycotted the general election and the Awami League ran unopposed in more than half of the seats contested.
Although the government-appointed election commission has claimed the election was legitimate, we believe the allegations of widespread rigging and voter suppression must be taken seriously. According to press accounts, when polls across the country officially opened, reporters found that some ballot boxes looked suspiciously full. There are reports that Awami League activists barred some people from voting, claiming that the polling stations were closed for lunch or had run out of ballots. Some voters were even told their votes had already been cast. To make matters worse, the Government of Bangladesh failed to grant credentials and issue visas to most international election monitors, including those funded by the United States.
There will be a series of elections taking place this year in Asia, including in Afghanistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. It is crucial that the United States demonstrate its continued commitment to and respect for democratic institutions, beginning with Bangladesh.
Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to your timely response.
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