Bangladesh general election: Concerns over foreign observer integrity


The recent appearance of a new poll monitoring group in Bangladesh has drawn attention and raised questions about its credibility. The group, Election Monitoring Forum (EMF), and its associated SAARC Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) have previously been involved in certifying the 2018 parliamentary election as “free, fair, and peaceful”, leading to regretful statements by some of the foreign observers involved.

Despite this history, the EMF recently held a high-level meeting with the Chief Election Commissioner and other officials, receiving preferential treatment even before the official list of accredited poll monitoring organizations for the next general election has been announced.

According to Dhaka’s leading vernacular daily Prothom Alo, while Mawlana Mohammad Abed Ali has admitted that two of the four foreigners are journalists and therefore can be termed as observers, reports published in Blitz have clearly exposed the foggy identity of at least one of those “foreign journalists”.

Exposing Mawlana Mohammad Abed Ali, Blitz in its report said:

During the 2018 general election, two Canadian nationals named Tania Dawn Foster and Chally Foster presented themselves as “international observers” monitoring elections in many countries, including Bangladesh.

However, there is no evidence of their existence as election observers anywhere else in the world or even in Canada.

During the 2018 general election, two Canadian nationals named Tania Dawn Foster and Chally Foster proclaimed themselves as “international observers” monitoring elections in “many countries” in the world. But, in the entire web, there is no existence of any election observer named Tania Dawn Foster and Chally Foster. The only information available is about their appearance as observers during the 2018 general election in Bangladesh.

Tania Dawn Foster and Chally Foster are siblings and their claim of observing election in other countries is false. Even in Canada, none of the organizations have ever heard these names as being election observers.

Even there is no existence of any Tania Dawn Foster or Chally Foster in the social media or any other election-related contents.

Meanwhile, in an opinion editorial, The Daily Star said: “There are published guidelines for election observation (international observers) on the EC website posted in November 2018, presumably still valid, clearly providing the route for applying and getting approval for all foreigners willing to monitor our elections. The guidelines also include a code of conduct, which states, “Maintain strict political impartiality”.

In this case, neither Mawlana Abed Ali nor at least one of the so-called foreign journalists can be certified as impartial. Rather, the so-called journalist and the website he represents are already known as propagandists and lobbyists.

Notably, the EC’s website only shows a list of Civil Society Organizations (CSO) accredited in 2018, with no mention of EMF. Furthermore, the EMF’s political links and association with former election commissioners have raised concerns about its impartiality. The foundation’s past use of SAARC’s logo without authorization and its advisory board with members from the ruling coalition add to the doubts about its neutrality.

The EC’s engagement with EMF raises questions about the legitimacy of its election monitoring process. Can a local observer group bring in foreign observers without scrutiny and approval from the EC, which has the legal authority for such accreditation? Foreign journalists, who are among the EMF’s observers, have different accreditation requirements set by the EC, making their involvement in the monitoring process questionable.

Election monitoring is crucial to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. Many developed countries, including the United States, regularly welcome local and international observers. However, in the context of Bangladesh’s divisive political landscape and lack of mutual trust among major parties, the role of international observers becomes even more crucial. Sadly, tactics of “mock-compliance” have been identified, wherein autocratic regimes seek external validation through highly regulated accreditation schemes, fake observers, and public relations firms to bolster their image.

Recognizing the significance of international observers, more than 20 leading organizations have formulated a declaration of principles and a code of conduct for international election observation, emphasizing the need for impartiality and credibility. Any observer not adhering to these principles should not be considered as an international observer.

To maintain the sanctity of the electoral process, it is vital for the EC to carefully vet and accredit poll monitoring organizations, ensuring their neutrality and adherence to internationally accepted standards. The transparency and credibility of the electoral process in Bangladesh depend on fair and independent monitoring, helping to foster trust and confidence in the democratic system.


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