Washington, Feb 13 (PTI) A top American commander and a bipartisan group of influential lawmakers have voiced concern over the status of democracy in Bangladesh, saying Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is trying to achieve a de-facto one-party rule.

US Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm Philips Davidson expressed the concerns in his deposition to the Senate’s Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing.

Davidson’s deposition was followed hours later by a bipartisan group of six influential lawmakers, led by Congressman Eliot Engel who chairs the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee of the House, writing to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seeking “a timely response” to protect democracy in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh’s December 30 elections point to a concerning trend of consolidation of power by the ruling Awami League and raise fears that PM Hasina is aiming to achieve a de facto one-party state, Davidson told the Senate’s Armed Services Committee during a Congressional hearing.

He voiced the concern while calling Bangladesh an important country for the US.

Bangladesh is an important security partner with strong potential to enhance regional stability and advance US interests in South Asia on counter-terrorism, Muslim outreach, countering violent extremism, supporting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, and the United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, he said.

The humanitarian crisis caused by the presence of over 700,000 Rohingya refugees from Burma (Myanmar) in Bangladesh has strained the Bangladesh government, said the top Pentagon commander.

Military-to-military engagement with Bangladesh fits into a broader strategy and commitment to uphold an international, rules-based order in the vital Indo-Pacific region and contributes to building a regional security framework, Davidson said.

The bipartisan group of six lawmakers wrote to Pompeo, saying that the allegations of widespread rigging and voter suppression must be taken seriously.

We are gravely concerned by the negative trajectory of democracy in Bangladesh and request an outline on how the Department intends to respond to this trend, particularly in light of the serious allegations that the outcome of the December 2018 elections lacked credibility, the lawmakers said.

Asserting that supporting democracy, rule of law, and human rights in the Indo-Pacific region is critical to advancing US interests, the letter said the reports of widespread irregularities in Bangladesh’s recent elections seriously threaten those important interests.? There will be a series of elections taking place this year in Asia, including those in Afghanistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand. It is crucial that the United States demonstrate its continued commitment to and respect for democratic institutions, beginning with Bangladesh, the lawmakers wrote.

Observing that Bangladesh has a strong and proud democratic tradition, the Congressmen said they are dismayed that ?the campaign leading up to the election was marred by violence, mass arrests and a crackdown on free speech.

“The Awami League?claimed?96?percent?of the seats contested –?more than the party and its allies won in 2014, when a key opposition party boycotted the general elections ?and the Awami League ran unopposed in more than half of the seats contested,” the letter said.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.