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US to impose new visa ban on Bangladeshis undermining democratic elections

Published : Friday, 26 May, 2023 at 12:00 AM  Count : 1750

US to impose new visa ban on Bangladeshis undermining democratic elections

US to impose new visa ban on Bangladeshis undermining democratic elections

The U.S. government has already made its intent abundantly clear on the next election in Bangladesh even though it is still about eight months away. By announcing a new country-specific visa policy to "promote democratic elections in Bangladesh," the Biden administration has delivered a strong message to Bangladesh politicians and other officials.

Since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, no American administration ever took this kind of action against any individual undermining free and fair elections in this country. Against this backdrop, the new visa policy on Bangladesh already announced by the U.S. government is extremely significant. It means the Biden administration will not just sit back this time around; it will closely monitor the next election in Bangladesh.

The U.S. government's new election-related visa policy on Bangladesh announced by the Secretary of State Antony Blinken on May 24 is official and explicit. Posted on the website of the U.S. embassy in Bangladesh, Blinken said in his statement: "Today, I am announcing a new visa policy under Section 212 (a) (3) (C) ("3C") of the Immigration and Nationality Act to support Bangladesh's goal of holding free, fair and peaceful national elections."

"Under this policy, the United States will be able to restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. This includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services. The United States notified the Bangladeshi government of this decision on May 3, 2023."

In its statement, the U.S. government listed arrange of actions which, in their view, undermine the democratic election process. They include, as mentioned in Antony Blinken's announcement, vote rigging, voter intimidation, the use of violence to prevent people from exercising their right to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, and the use of measures designed to prevent political parties, voters, civil society, or the media from disseminating their views.

Highlighting the obligations of all concerned to hold a democratic election, the U.S. secretary of state said, "The holding of free and fair elections is the responsibility of everyone -- voters, political parties, the government, the security forces, civil society and the media." He also explained the reasons behind the new immigration measures of the U.S. government against Bangladesh. "I am announcing this policy to lend our support to all those seeking to advance democracy in Bangladesh."

The United States took similar measures recently to impose visa ban on specific individuals in Nigeria for undermining the democratic process during the just-concluded 2023 general elections. "We have imposed visa restrictions on specific individuals who undermined the democratic process during Nigeria's 2023 elections. We remain committed to supporting Nigerian aspirations to strengthen democracy and rule of law," American Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a Twitter message on May 15.

In an identical statement, he said: "Today, I am announcing that we have taken steps to impose visa restrictions on specific individuals in Nigeria for undermining the democratic process during Nigeria's 2023 elections cycle. The United States is committed to supporting and advancing democracy in Nigeria and around the world." Citing the same Section 212 (a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act as in the case of Bangladesh, Blinken said: "These individuals will be subject to restrictions on visas to the United States under a policy covering those believed to be  responsible for, or complicit in, undermining democracy."

However, the U.S. government did not mention the name of any individual or group of persons perceived to have obstructed or undermined the 2023 general elections in Nigeria held on February 25. But Blinken said: "These individuals have been involved in the intimidation of voters through threats and physical violence, the manipulation of vote results, and other activity that undermines Nigeria's democratic process." The U.S. government's decision reflects the continued commitment of the country to support Nigeria's aspiration to strengthen democracy and the rule of law.

In an editorial on May 25, the Lagos-based Nigerian newspaper The Sun did not criticize the U.S. government's newly imposed visa ban on Nigeria. Rather, the newspaper said: "No doubt, what some Nigerian politicians did in the last general election was a threat to our nascent democracy. It was abhorrent. Intimidation, harassment and physical assault on political opponents were rife in some parts of the country. In Lagos State, for instance, there were threats and attacks on the electorate, especially members and supporters of the opposition in some parts of the state."

The apparently independent newspaper slammed the country's election commission for failing to live up to its promise to Nigerian people. "The Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] joined in the truncation of the process by not following its rules and guidelines. The electronic transmission of election results from each of the 176,606 polling units to INEC servers was not duly followed in the presidential election, giving room for manipulation of results after Nigerians had voted. INEC blamed technical glitches for the infraction."

The U.K. government also threatened to impose visa restrictions on specific Nigerians who undermined the democratic process in Nigeria. The British High Commission in Nigeria said it was collecting the names of politicians who engaged in electoral fraud, violence and voter suppression in the elections and expressed concern over the use of inflammatory ethno-religious language by some public and political figures. The UK had also threatened in 2020 to impose visa ban on Nigeria's electoral offenders and even seize their assets and prosecute them in accordance with international law, the editorial pointed out.

The U.S. government's just-announced new visa restrictions on Bangladeshis who will engage in undermining free and fair elections next year are eerily similar to those placed on electoral offenders in Nigeria. The latest move by the American government makes it clear enough that the Biden administration will not turn a blind eye anymore to the election process in the emerging democracies around the world. This marks a significant departure from the U.S. foreign policy under Trump and other previous administrations. With placing new visa ban -- first on Nigeria and now on Bangladesh -- the apparently re-asserting its position as a guardian of democracy in the world.

As for Bangladesh, the new U.S. visa ban on those who will be found involved in vote rigging, voter intimidation or other electoral fraud is very bad news indeed.

With this new American sanction, Bangladesh will join countries like Nigeria but not like Taiwan or Singapore. If the new ban comes into effect, unfortunately the world will not believe the story of the Bangladesh government. Most countries of the globe including the U.K., the trusted partner of the U.S. are almost sure to side with the Biden administration as they did in the Nigerian case.

Therefore, the Bangladesh government should take the just-announced new U.S. visa policy on Bangladeshis very seriously and adopt all possible measures to hold a free, fair, participatory and internationally acceptable election next year. There are instances -- especially during Gen. Ershad's removal from power -- when almost all political parties in Bangladesh came together. So, they can unite again for democracy and the country. The only thing they have to do is to place the national interest above the interest of their own and their party.

The writer is a Toronto-based senior journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun as a guest columnist

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