Dhaka Discourse

Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics

17 Nov, 2014    ·   4739

Prof Delwar Hossain reflects on the country’s recent diplomatic successes on the international stage

Perhaps for the first time Bangladesh has achieved a new feat in the conduct of its diplomacy. This time it is not successful bilateral visits to major powers such as Russia or China neither the pursuit of Look East Policy, nor the Dhaka-Washington Security Dialogue. Bangladesh has been elected to the top leadership of two highly reputed multilateral bodies - the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU). These two global parliamentary bodies that exchange knowledge and practices of parliamentary democracy in the member assemblies and encourage parliamentary dialogue worldwide are very influential in the global arena.

Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury, the Speaker of the National Parliament of Bangladesh, was elected as the Chairperson of the 35-member strong executive committee of the CPA that promotes parliamentary democracy in the former British colonies. She has become the first Bangladeshi to be elected to this office. She defeated her lone opponent Julianna O'Connor-Connolly, Speaker of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly. The Cayman Islands are a British overseas territory. It has a 20-seat legislative assembly elected by the people. The election to the Chairperson of the executive committee of the CPA was highly competitive as reflected in the voting pattern. Bangladesh’s candidate got 70 votes while Julianna bagged 67. 

Within a week of the diplomatic success in the CPA, Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a member of the National Parliament, made a significant achievement. He was elected as the President of the IPU, an international organisation of parliaments, by defeating his opponents in a fierce battle of ballots. He defeated three other candidates: the Speaker of Australia's House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop, Indonesian MP Nurhayati Ali Assegaf, and former Speaker of Maldives’ Parliament Abdulla Shahid, in anelection held on the concluding day of the 131st IPU Assembly in Geneva. Saber got 169 votes while his nearest rival Bishop managed to secure 95 votes. IPU was established in 1889 and has emerged as the focal point for world-wide parliamentary dialogue and works for peace and cooperation among people and for the firm establishment of representative democracy.

Shirin and Saber both defeated their opponents in ballots to win the chairs of the CPA and IPU. The government has not wasted a single moment to celebrate these two victories and has suggested that the victory is a response to those who have been criticising the 05 January general elections in Bangladesh. To the government, it is a demonstration of global recognition.

While this success is celebrated by the government, unlike in other countries, the opposition in Bangladesh has shied away from congratulating the two Bangladeshi politicians who have brought laurels to the country. The opposition has termed the achievements as events where voters (member countries) cast their votes independently, which does not mean that the international community had accepted the 05 January polls. There has been every attempt from the opposition to put down the diplomatic success of the government.

In another diplomatic accomplishment, Bangladesh has become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for the period 2015-17. In an election held on 21 October in New York, Bangladesh won by 149 votes to become a member. Bangladesh contested for the post from the Asia Pacific region. Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Thailand and Qatar were the candidates for four member posts reserved for the Asia Pacific region in the election. India came out on top with the most votes in the group, followed by Indonesia. Bangladesh secured 149 votes - the third highest votes in the group - while Thailand was eliminated. Within a few days, Bangladesh was elected to another international organisation. Bangladesh has become an executive member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for the second time. A total of 17 countries took part to elect members of the 13-member union for the Asia and Oceania zone of the ITU. Bangladesh got 115 votes - 176 votes were cast out of a total of 193.

That Bangladesh has been elected to four global bodies through secret votes by member nations is undoubtedly a rare diplomatic success in the country’s history. It becomes more critical at a time when the government is apparently struggling for international recognition of its leadership. This becomes evident in the words of the ruling political leaders. Following the victory in the UNHRC elections, the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, Mahmod Ali, declared, “This win again proves that Bangladesh is absolutely on the right track under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina.” According to the foreign minister, Bangladesh won the elections against the aggressive campaign of some international human rights organisations. The prime minister of Bangladesh termed it a success in creating global leadership. She attributed these achievements to the global recognition of Bangladesh as a role model, based on its stunning success in socioeconomic development.

The proactive role of Bangladesh in global forums and its achievement of global support could boost the image of the country abroad, which is critical for national development, particularly for attracting foreign investors. But the attempts by the government to celebrate this success for narrow regime interests and the opposition’s move to undermine it are puzzling. Perhaps, the international community would also observe with surprise how confrontational domestic politics can belittle major successes in the global diplomatic arena when it matters for national interest.