British High Commissioner to Bangladesh Robert Chatterton Dickson on Sunday urged Bangladesh to ensure a free and fair election as it was a factor for foreign investors.
Pointing out that the next national election in Bangladesh was very important, he said a problematic election would hamper a smooth transition for Bangladesh from a least developed country to a middle-income one.
"As a development partner, Britain wants Bangladesh's economic position to be more prosperous. And for this, the focus should be on strengthening the democratic system just as much as it is important that it is transparent and neutral. In particular, the election environment must one free of fear," he said at an event titled "Meet the reporters" organised by the Dhaka Reporters Unity (DRU) on the occasion of 50 years of Bangladesh-UK diplomatic ties.
"Stability is essential in all areas of attracting foreign investment," Dickson said, adding that it could be hampered if the next national election does not go smoothly as investors also pay attention to these issues," Dickson said.
He also reiterated the need for an inclusive and non-partisan Election Commission for the 2023 national election.
"More broadly, our view is that long-term stability and economic growth flourish best in open and democratic societies with strong institutions, public accountability and competitive elections. So with international partners, we support plural and transparent democracy in Bangladesh provided in the Constitution, including urging for a fair and credible process for the elections due at the end of 2023," he said.
"This means first, allowing all parties to organise and be heard in advance of the election so that there is a real debate about the future of the country. Second, it means everyone can cast their vote freely. Third, it means the votes being counted reliably and transparently. And finally, it means credible results being accepted by all parties, including those who did not win," he said.
About EC formation, Dickson said, "Milestones such as the Election Commission formation process send a signal on the trajectory of this administration. Strong commitments from all parties on a free and fair process would help set the tone. This includes an inclusive and non-partisan Election Commission.
"These issues are reflected in the light of the 1972 constitution of Bangladesh. It is good that Bangladesh has integrated these issues a long time ago and we want to see those reflected."
Praising Bangladesh's democratic constitution formulated in 1972, the high commissioner said, "We stand with those who support tolerance and religious freedom, as set out in Bangladesh's Constitution, which enshrine freedom of expression and religion."
He said this is an excellent time to be British High Commissioner in Dhaka. In the intervening half century the relationship between the two countries has been transformed.
"So this is an exciting time for the UK here, as we work with an increasingly confident and outward looking Bangladesh, tackling shared challenges and grasping shared opportunities as we head into the next 50 years together," he said.
"In the 50th year of Brit-Bangla Bondhon, we are building on all the links that exist between Bangladesh and the UK, including the diaspora, the 600,000 people living in the UK with Bangladeshi heritage, and the much wider range of links that exist between us on security, defence, climate, Covid-19, trade, and a whole range of issues on which we work very closely with friends and partners in and beyond the government in Bangladesh.
Focusing on LDC graduation, he said, "Here, we are working with British businesses in building a trade and development relationship as Bangladesh graduates this decade from a Least Developed to a Middle Income Country," he added.
"Graduation is a milestone not a finishing line and we are supporting Bangladesh achieve a smooth and successful graduation and continue its export-led growth by providing duty-free, quota free access to the UK market until 2029."
Highlighting UK's position as the second largest investor in Bangladesh, Dickson said, "We will continue to work with Bangladesh to deliver free and fair trade by improving the functioning of the WTO and modernising global trade rules.
"As Bangladesh prospers we hope to see the market becoming more open to international investment, especially for the high value financial, education and health services in which the UK leads the world," he added.
Regarding the Indo-Pacific Strategy, he said, "The Indo-Pacific is the fastest-growing economic region in the world, a crucial transit point for global trade. We are engaging more deeply in the region on many of the most pressing global challenges – from climate and biodiversity to maritime security and geopolitical competition linked to rules and norms."
About Rohingya cooperation with Bangladesh, the high commissioner said, "We're also working together on regional security, including the Rohingya crisis. Our shared aim is to see voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation for the Rohingya as soon as conditions in Myanmar allow."
Asked if many criminals from Bangladesh have sought refuge in the UK, Dickson said it was a matter of legal process. It is under the supervision of the court. In this case, the court will decide independently.
Dickson sees a particular opportunity for universities if the Cross Border Higher Education Rules can be implemented.
The event was conducted by DRU president Nazrul Islam Mithu. Nurul Islam Hasib, general secretary of DRU also spoke at the event.