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Cablegate: Transforming Bangladesh's Democracy

VZCZCXYZ0000
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHKA #0533 1360803
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 150803Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6762

UNCLAS DHAKA 000533

SIPDIS

FOR THE SECRETARY AND DIRECTOR OF FOREIGN ASSISTANCE FORE
ALSO FOR D, P, AND SCA
FROM AMBASSADOR MORIARTY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAID KDEM PGOV PREL
SUBJECT: TRANSFORMING BANGLADESH'S DEMOCRACY

REF: DHAKA 526

1. (U) Madam Secretary, when Bangladesh,s 80 million
eligible voters go to the polls in December, they will be
participating in a democratic exercise that will have a huge
impact on U.S. interests. I can not think of another
election over the next year (outside of North America) that
will prove more transformational. At issue is whether the
seventh most populous nation in the world - one with a large
Muslim majority and a history of extreme poverty and
occasional support for transnational terrorism restores
democracy or flounders. I believe we need to do everything we
can to ensure that the elections are free, fair and credible
and lead to a more stable, deep-rooted democracy.

The Context

2. (U) Since independence, Bangladesh has seen its democratic
development stunted by periods of military rule, debilitating
political polarization, ineffective institutions of
governance, and rampant corruption. Partisan deadlock led to
the cancellation of the 2007 parliamentary election and the
establishment of the present Caretaker Government, which
continues to rule under a state of emergency. Key components
of the government's political reform and anti-corruption
campaign will remain far from complete by the time elections
are held in December. Other reforms have been completed but
may not be sustained depending on the results of the
currently unpredictable national dialogue and the level of
political parties' commitment to reform. Sustaining the
reform momentum and, at the same time, rehabilitating
democratic institutions and processes will require support to
political parties and an active dialogue on the
pre-requisites for a transition to democracy.

The Challenge in Bangladesh

3. We have been working closely with other international
donors and with the Caretaker Government in Bangladesh to
create the conditions necessary for credible elections and to
help strengthen democracy after the polls. That said, I find
the resources the USG has reserved for this task woefully
insufficient. Other donors have anted-up money for voter
registration, ballot boxes, and the like. We see gaps in key
areas where we could be helpful: exit polling, political
party development, etc. - in ways that would help keep the
process on track and contribute to its credibility. We have
capabilities that other donors can not match and will clearly
be needed in the coming months.

The Need

4. (U) In order to help make Bangladesh,s experiment in
democracy work, I strongly believe we need to have $6.0
million of the cuts to our FY-08 Democracy and Governance
programs restored immediately. We will provide details
septel regarding the specific programs that we envision
funding. In sum, we will seek to:

--Promote the fairness and transparency of Bangladesh,s
upcoming parliamentary and local elections;
--Help create an enabling environment conducive to the
national election and restoration of democracy;
--Promote political party reform and women in politics;
--Assess institutional needs of newly elected bodies of
governance.

A Last Word

5. Located in a region with a fast-rising India, an unstable
but crucial Pakistan, and a war-torn Afghanistan, Bangladesh
tends to get overlooked. If it were located elsewhere, we
would likely seize on developments in Bangladesh as having
huge implications for the future of the war on terrorism. If
Bangladesh - given the many strikes against it - can make it
to the ranks of stable, prosperous democracies, it will serve
as a powerful symbol not just to the region but to all
moderate Moslem countries. If it sinks into chaos, it will
only be a matter of time before those who look towards the
United States with evil intent will find the ungoverned
spaces here fertile ground. I am asking for a minor
investment that could pay huge dividends in helping to ensure
a more prosperous democratic future for Bangladesh and the
region. We don't want to look back in the coming years and
realize that we had missed an opportunity to avert a
disaster. A small amount of funding would allow us to help
Bangladesh hold free, fair and credible elections by the end
of 2008 and pave the way for a more stable democracy in 2009.
Moriarty

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