Bangladesh, strategically positioned in the heart of South and South-East Asia with access to key sea trade routes and the Bay of Bengal, has recently undergone a closely monitored general election on January 7, 2024. This geopolitical hotspot has attracted the attention of major global players, each with their unique interests and concerns. As the diplomatic saga unfolds, the responses of influential nations like the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, India, China, and Russia become pivotal in shaping the trajectory of Bangladesh’s international standing post-2024.
The United States, acknowledging the Awami League’s victory, has raised concerns about the fairness of the election. Denouncing pre-election and polling-day violence, the US government has expressed worries about the imprisonment of opposition politicians and cited irregularities. The looming threat of sanctions, including visa restrictions on those suspected of meddling in Bangladesh’s democracy, adds a layer of complexity to the diplomatic discourse.
Since October of the preceding year, the US has closely monitored developments in Bangladesh, hinting at potential visa restrictions for individuals interfering with democratic processes. Secretary of State Antony Blinken officially declared this plan, aligning with the U.S.’s commitment to promoting freedom and openness in the Indo-Pacific region. While expressing support for the democratic ambitions of the Bangladeshi people, the US remains critical of what it perceives as an election that was neither free nor fair.
Ambassador Peter Haas, while advocating for peaceful demonstrations and free and fair elections, has consistently warned about imposing restrictions on Bangladesh’s main political party. This cautious approach aims to avoid creating an unbalanced ruling entity. US remains committed to tackling issues like zero-sum politics, fiery rhetoric, violence, and trust issues while expressing readiness to promote civil society, human rights, and strengthen economic ties with Bangladesh.
Both the United Kingdom and the European Union criticized the intimidation and violence surrounding Bangladesh’s general election. While acknowledging the election results, the UK emphasized the lack of comprehensive voting options for Bangladeshi voters. European Union, despite denouncing violence, expressed its commitment to continuing cooperation with Bangladesh.
EU’s dedication to upholding political plurality, human rights, and trade ties, including possible future access to the GSP+ preferential trade program, signals a nuanced approach. Private citizens flew to Bangladesh, similar to the US, with no official mission dispatched to monitor the election. This delicate balance of critique and cooperation underscores the complexity of diplomatic relations in the aftermath of Bangladesh’s 12th National parliamentary Election.
India, Bangladesh’s one of the closest neighbors, initially refrained from specific comments on the election. However, Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra’s expression of respect for the democratic process in Bangladesh on November 10 marked a positive turn. This statement, following Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s visit to India in September, was welcomed by the ruling Awami League government.
Ahead of the vote, the Election Commission of India sent a three-member observer team to ensure the integrity of the electoral process. The observers reported peaceful citizen participation, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Sheikh Hasina on her fourth consecutive term. The exchange highlighted the positive bilateral relationship, emphasizing the enduring partnership and mutual commitment to strengthening ties. India’s pragmatic approach reflects a nuanced understanding of regional dynamics and the importance of maintaining stable relations with its neighbor.
China, a significant player in the region, has maintained a stance of non-interference in Bangladesh’s internal affairs. Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh emphasized that elections are internal matters, reaffirming China’s commitment to non-interference and expressing the desire for elections to be held in accordance with the constitution. China sent election observers to monitor proceedings, further highlighting its dedication to ensuring political and social stability.
Following the announcement of the election results, the Chinese Ambassador to Bangladesh personally met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to convey congratulations on her victory. President Xi Jinping also sent a congratulatory message, emphasizing the enduring friendship between China and Bangladesh. This congruent message aligns with China’s broader strategy of fostering strong ties with strategically important nations.
Russia, while emphasizing its commitment to abstain from meddling in other nations’ internal affairs, sent a delegation to observe Bangladesh’s national election. The Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, regularly criticizes the U.S. for alleged interference in Bangladesh. Accusing “developed democracies” of meddling in other countries’ affairs under the guise of protecting democratic values, Russia’s stance underscores its commitment to non-meddling.
The three-member delegation from Russia’s Central Election Commission, led by Andrey Shutov, observed the election and confirmed its legitimacy, adhering to generally accepted standards. Maria Zakharova congratulated the people of Bangladesh on the successful outcome of the election. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin and President Vladimir Putin also extended their congratulations to Sheikh Hasina on assuming office, highlighting the cordial relations between the two nations.
Bangladesh finds itself at a critical juncture in its diplomatic journey, navigating the intricate web of international relations post-2024 election. The principle of “friendship to all, malice towards none” is likely to guide the nation’s foreign policy approach. As Bangladesh carefully balances relations with major powers, its focus on national interests, enhanced trade, people-to-people exchanges, and economic ties with neighboring and nearby countries will be paramount.
The dynamics of these diplomatic relationships will play a pivotal role in shaping Bangladesh’s role in the international arena in the years to come. The nation’s commitment to fostering positive relations with various global players while addressing concerns and criticisms demonstrates a diplomatic maturity that is crucial for navigating the complexities of the evolving geopolitical landscape. Bangladesh’s ability to strike a delicate balance and leverage its strategic position will determine its success in shaping a future characterized by stability, growth, and international cooperation.
As the diplomatic saga continues to unfold, Bangladesh’s ability to navigate the challenges presented by influential global players will be crucial for its future trajectory. The nation’s commitment to diplomacy, regional stability, and economic growth will determine its standing on the international stage. Bangladesh’s nuanced approach in handling the aftermath of the 2024 election showcases a diplomatic maturity that positions the country for stability and cooperation in the ever-evolving geopolitical landscape.