Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen yesterday accused diplomats stationed in Dhaka of violating electoral laws for what he said by registering their Bangladeshi staff as international observers for city corporation polls.
In a letter to the foreign missions in Dhaka on January 30, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out that they cannot include employees having Bangladeshi nationality in their teams, Momen confirmed to The Business Standard.
"According to the Guidelines for Foreign Election Observer 2018, no local employee of a foreign mission having Bangladeshi nationality is eligible to observe the election as an international observer," the letter reads.
However, the Election Commission yesterday approved 74 people, including 46 foreigners and 28 Bangladeshis working in 10 foreign missions of the USA, the UK, Canada, Australia, Japan, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and the European Commission, as observers for the Dhaka's two city corporation polls.
On January 30, the foreign minister expressed displeasure against foreign diplomats for "interference in Bangladesh's domestic affairs", saying they should follow the code of conduct and apply their sense of responsibility. Momen, however, did not accuse the diplomats of violating the diplomatic norms.
But Information Minister Hassan Mahmud yesterday alleged that foreign diplomats have violated the diplomatic norms by visiting the residences of the mayoral candidates.
Their remarks expose the government's unhappiness over the diplomats' activities centring the city polls.
Yesterday Momen also strongly criticised the Election Commission for allowing Bangladeshis working in foreign missions in Dhaka as "international observers" along with diplomats to observe city polls today.
Earlier on Thursday, in a joint "local statement" posted in verified Facebook page of the USA and UK missions in Dhaka, diplomats expressed their hope to see democracy in action in polling centres across the city.
"We hope the government of Bangladesh, the Election Commission and all political parties will respect the rights of citizens to cast their votes in a peaceful and festive atmosphere, and count the votes with fairness and integrity," said the post.
A number of diplomats also met with mayoral candidates in the past weeks and discussed the election.
On Friday, US Embassy's political counsellor Brent Christensen separately met Awami League's mayoral candidate Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh and BNP's mayoral candidate Ishraque Hossain and discussed the latest election situation.
The day the diplomats released the statement online, the foreign minister expressed his displeasure and urged them to apply "their sense of responsibility".
"We expect they'll work as per the code of conduct," he said.
Yesterday, he expressed his surprise at the EC's approval, saying Bangladesh laws do not allow Bangladeshi citizens to work as international election observers in Dhaka.
"I have no idea how they [EC] did that," he told reporters at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
Explaining their position, Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda yesterday said the Bangladeshi observers of the foreign missions had observed the elections to Gazipur and other city corporation polls.
He said the EC would keep an eye on these observers so that "they do not act beyond the guidelines."
In a programme outside Dhaka, Information Minister Hasan Mahmud yesterday came up with a blistering attack on foreign diplomats. He alleged foreign diplomats have violated the diplomatic norms by visiting the residences of candidates.
"Visiting the homes of the candidates to show sympathy for them is not a diplomatic job," he said.
"I think the diplomatic norms were violated in this regard," he told reports on the side lines of a function at Chattogram.
Hasan said the diplomats are making frequent comments on the Dhaka city elections, which is a violation of the diplomatic norms. Foreign diplomats do not make such comments on elections in India or other countries, he pointed out.