The United Kingdom (UK) wants to see a confident Bangladesh with “strong, transparent and accountable” democratic institutions. It emphasizes on having an effective political opposition, competitive elections, a vibrant civil society and a free press. The country also warns that economic progress could be undermined in Bangladesh unless steps are taken to improve democratic governance and accountability.
The UK minister of State for the Asia and the Pacific Mark Field came up with his country’s position during his recent visit to Bangladesh.
The minister arrived here in Bangladesh on April 5 at night for a 3-day visit. During the visit, the minister met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He spoke various seminar and roundtable talks. He also exchanged views with editors and senior journalists.
On April 7, the British Minister delivered the keynote speech at a seminar titled ‘Governance and Development- the Way Forward for Bangladesh’ organized by Policy Research Institute (PRI) of Bangladesh in a city hotel.
In his speech, Mark Field said as a close friend of Bangladesh, UK wants to see a confident Bangladesh with “strong, transparent and accountable” democratic institutions. "We want to see a lively debate, a vibrant civil society, and competitive elections," added he.
The UK Minister said they want to see this flourishing democratic landscape carefully scrutinized and held to account by a free and vibrant media.
He said Bangladesh, today, can be proud of the huge progress it has made against the Sustainable Development Goals.
Highlighting elections and democracy, Mark Field said that means holding elections that are fair, and that present voters with a free choice. “Again, as a friend of Bangladesh it gives me no pleasure to say this, but I fear the parliamentary elections which took place here in December did not meet this standard – as I said at the time.”
He, at the time, also pressed for a full, credible and transparent resolution of all complaints.
“I think we all recognize that the notion of choice is crucial in any healthy democracy. Without it, there’s a risk that voters might seek other ways of achieving the changes they want,” said the minister.
“That’s why it’s so important to have a political opposition in place, one that’s able and willing to hold the government to account and offer an alternate view,” said the UK minister.
On April 6, Mark Field had a breakfast meeting with editors and senior journalists. “An interesting meeting to start the day off, discussing with editors the media landscape here and the impact of the Digital Security Act. All agreed that a free and diverse media is vital for a healthy democracy,” the minister tweeted after the meeting.
On April 10, a press release issued by the British High Commission here in Dhaka on the visit, saying that British Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific Mark Field has said economic progress could be undermined in Bangladesh unless steps are taken to improve democratic governance and accountability.
He also laid emphasis on having an effective political opposition and a free press.
“But as a true friend of Bangladesh, we stand ready to address issues around democratic governance and accountability, where we believe the government of Bangladesh must do more for its people to flourish and reach their full potential," Field was quoted as saying.
Permanent Under Secretary (PUS) of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office Sir Simon McDonald also visited Bangladesh in the last week of April. He co-chaired the third Dhaka-London Strategic Dialogue with Bangladesh Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque at state guesthouse Padma. He also delivered a lecture on “Bangladesh and United Kingdom’s Relations in the context of UK’s exit from the European Union” organized by Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS) in its auditorium.
The UK top official reiterated that they want to have a good relationship with Bangladesh no matter what happens regarding Brexit.
“Our intention, no matter what happens, is to have a good relationship with Bangladesh,” said Sir Simon McDonald.
Asked whether they discussed the extradition issue in the Strategic Dialogue, he said, “I’m an official, not a politician but I’ve learned a few things from politicians and my answer is example of that. In our talks today, we discussed all the issues which were expected to be discussed.”
Sir Simon, while briefing reporters after the dialogue at Padma, said they take personal pride and interest in the dialogue as he along with the Bangladesh Foreign Secretary initiated it.
“We’re able to look at recent successes of Bangladesh, especially economic successes and very strong growth in the economy,” he said.
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