U.S. Senate Calls for Political Reform, Defends Grameen Bank in Bangladesh

January 9, 2014
by Allison Grossman, Senior Legislative Associate

In the wake of violence and protests following Bangladesh’s elections on Sunday, the U.S. Senate raised its voice, passing a bipartisan resolution led by Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Mike Enzi (R-WY), and Chris Murphy (D-CT) calling for political reform in Bangladesh and the restoration of independence for the groundbreaking microfinance institution Grameen Bank.

The bipartisan resolution, S. Res. 318, was introduced in December in the lead up to the contentious elections. With RESULTS grassroots in key states quickly mobilizing in support of the resolution, several Senators added their names as co-sponsors shortly after introduction. These included Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ); SFRC members Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH); and Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO) and John Boozman (R-AR). The resolution passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on December 18, just before the Senate adjourned for the year.

On January 5, the current government of Bangladesh, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina of the Awami League, moved forward with general elections despite the main opposition Bangladesh National Party (BNP) boycotting the election. Without BNP’s participation, there were a record number of uncontested seats throughout the country. Voter turnout was extremely low in comparison with other recent elections in Bangladesh, and protests and violence continued into Monday. The New York Times has further information on the issues surrounding the election.

The international community, including the U.S. Department of State, responded quickly, calling for the Awami League, BNP, and other political parties to resolve their differences at the negotiating table and to find a way to quickly hold free, fair, and credible elections that express the will of the Bangladeshi people.

The U.S. Senate added its own statement by passing S. Res. 318 on Tuesday evening. The resolution “condemns the political violence in Bangladesh and urges political leaders in that country to engage directly and substantively in a dialogue toward free, fair, and credible elections” and “urges the Government of Bangladesh to ensure judicial independence, end harassment of human rights activists, and restore the independence of the Grameen Bank.” It is under Prime Minister Hasina that the independence of Grameen Bank has been overtaken by the government of Bangladesh. Political instability resulting from these elections has the potential to undo the gains the country has made to date reducing poverty and empowering its citizens.

RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund Executive Director Joanne Carter released a statement yesterday praising the Senate for their support of the people of Bangladesh, political reform, and the independence of Grameen Bank. Joanne said, “The resolution rightly underscores the important relationship between political reform and Bangladesh’s hard-won gains against poverty. By standing up for the poor in Bangladesh at this critical moment, the Senate is helping ensure progress continues.”

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