Bangladeshis living in Germany have expressed hope the December 30 polls will strengthen democracy in the South Asian country. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government has come under criticism for "stifling dissent."
In a political discussion, entitled "What Bangladesh do you want?" — organized by DW on December 7 — Bangladeshi expats spoke about their hopes and fears regarding the upcoming parliamentary elections in their home country.
More than 40 Bangladeshis living in Germany participated in the discussion, which gave a platform to the Bangladeshi diaspora to share their views on the crucial December 30 vote.
While most of the participants expressed hope for a free and fair election, some said they were dissatisfied with the political environment in their home country ahead of the polls.
Critics say that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government is cracking down on opposition and free thinkers in the run-up to the December 30 election, a claim that the ruling Awami League (AL) party denies.
Mir Monaz Haque, a Berlin-based engineer, said a lack of democratic culture is hindering Bangladesh's progress, adding that in comparison to Germany, the state institutions in his homeland are not independent.
"In Bangladesh, most people know the name of the election commissioner. How many Germans can name their election commissioner? Not many, because they don't need to know the election commissioner's name. The election system in Germany works independently and the voting here is free and fair," Haque told the "What Bangladesh do you want?" conference, adding that Bangladesh needs an independent election commission.
Some members of Bangladesh's major political parties also participated in the discussion. While Bashirul Alam Chowdhury, a member of ruling AL party, claimed that PM Hasina's tenure has been successful, Mostak Khan, a member of the main opposition outfit, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), pointed out that a German think-tank recently described the AL rule as an "autocracy."
Ahm Abdul Hai, a Bangladeshi journalist living in Bonn, hoped that people in Bangladesh would become more tolerant of dissenting opinions.
"Bangladesh needs to abolish death penalties and put an end to extrajudicial killings. We must make sure that the citizens' lives are not put in harm's way," Hai said.
Most participants hoped that there would be a smooth transition of power after the parliamentary election.
Many inside and outside Bangladesh doubt the ability of the country's institutions to organize a free, fair and inclusive national election, which may pave the way for a peaceful transition of power between various political parties.
As the polling date approaches, opposition parties in Bangladesh have been increasingly calling for international observers to monitor the polls, hoping that their presence on the ground will put pressure on Bangladeshi officials to ensure the election is free and fair.
Earlier this month, William Moeller, a political officer at the US embassy in Dhaka, told the Reuters news agency that there had been reports of harassment and intimidation before last month's city corporation elections.
"We raised these concerns at the time, so we are hoping we won't see the same issues in the national elections," Moeller said, adding that Washington was planning to send 12 observer teams to monitor the parliamentary elections in Bangladesh.
In October, the US National Democratic Institute said the December 30 polls would be held "amid a high degree of political polarization, heightened tensions and shrinking political space."
In a bid to instill a sense of neutrality among the officials, the opposition has repeatedly sought the help of international observers.
The country's political opposition, led by the BNP, has demanded that the ruling AL party quit before the polls and handover power to a caretaker government. A "neutral" administration, opposition politicians say, would ensure a level-playing field for all parties contesting the vote. But the idea has been rejected by the ruling party and their leader, PM Hasina.
But unlike in 2014, when the main opposition party boycotted the polls, the BNP has opted to participate in the elections this time round, despite its demand not being met.
For the past 28 years, Bangladeshi politics have been dominated by two strong female politicians — Hasina and opposition leader Khaleda Zia. Hasina's AL has held power since 2009 and dispensed from 2014 with a practice of letting a neutral caretaker government oversee elections.
Bangladesh's economy has steadily improved under Hasina's rule but human rights groups have criticized increasing curbs on freedom of speech and the media in the past decade.