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Cablegate: Political Parties Irate with City Polls Schedule

VZCZCXRO1493
RR RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #0682/01 1760020
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 240020Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6971
INFO RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 2240
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0715
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 9747
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 8511
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 1358

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 000682

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM BG
SUBJECT: POLITICAL PARTIES IRATE WITH CITY POLLS SCHEDULE

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) The Election Commission (EC) announced June 21 that local
elections would be held in 13 cities August 4, evoking immediate
opposition from the major political parties. The Awami League and
the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) assert that the Government
seeks to hold local elections to change the political landscape in
its favor before Parliamentary polls in December. Indeed, the BNP
plans to go to court to stop the Caretaker Government from holding
the municipal vote. The Government, however, believes holding
non-partisan local elections before the Parliamentary polls can
loosen the major parties' grip on local politics and thereby boost
efforts to decentralize governance and establish grass-roots
accountability. The Government announced it would relax certain
provisions of the Emergency Power Rules (EPR) to allow candidates to
campaign for about three weeks before the election. Ultimately, the
parties may participate in the local elections out of political
expediency.

---------------------------
MUNICIPAL ELECTION DATE SET
---------------------------

2. (SBU) The EC announced that local elections in the divisional
capitals of Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal, and Sylhet, and in the
smaller cities of Manikganj, Chuadanga, Shariatpur, Naohata,
Dupchachiya, Sripur, Fulbaria, Golapganj, and Sitakundu will occur
August 4. The EC set July 3 as the deadline for filing
applications, July 6 and 7 for the review of those applications, and
July 13 as the deadline for withdrawing. Meanwhile, the Home
Ministry relaxed certain provisions of the EPR, which had banned
political gatherings since the Caretaker Government came to power in
January 2007, to allow election campaigning in the municipalities
for about three weeks before the vote. Although municipal elections
are non-partisan, the political parties unofficially nominate
candidates and campaign for them.

3. (SBU) The incumbent mayors of Rajshahi, Khulna, Barisal and
Sylhet are in prison on charges of graft and extortion. Khulna
Mayor Sheikh Tayebur Rahman and Rajshahi Mayor Mizanur Rahman Minu
have been convicted, while the courts have accepted charge-sheets
against Sylhet Mayor Badruddin Ahmed Kamran and Barisal Mayor
Mujibur Rahman Sarwar. EPR provisions do not allow Rahman and Minu
to run for office because of their convictions; similarly, a city
corporation ordinance approved by the Caretaker Government bars the
two other mayors from running for public office because of the
charges filed against them.

----------------------------------------
POLITICAL PARTIES PROTEST POLLS SCHEDULE
----------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Leaders of the BNP and Awami League immediately demanded
the Caretaker Government cancel the planned municipal elections.
BNP Secretary General Khandker Delwar Hossain told media that the
constitution did not allow the Caretaker Government to organize any
poll other than Parliamentary elections. (Note: In fact, the
constitution does not address this issue. It lays out the
responsibility of the Caretaker Government to hold Parliamentary
elections. End note.) Awami League Acting President Zillur Rahman
called the scheduled municipal elections "a farce" but did not
explicitly say his party would boycott the vote.

---------------------------------
PUBLIC COMMENTS VS. PRIVATE VIEWS
---------------------------------

5. (SBU) Awami League Acting General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam
told the Embassy his party's policy-making bodies would decide how
to proceed by June 26. "There is a possibility that we will ask our
leaders to participate," Islam said. Awami League Presidium member
Tofail Ahmed also told us that his party ultimately would take part
in local government elections. BNP Joint Secretary General Nazrul
Islam Khan said his party had yet to decide on a course of action,
adding that decisions would be made after getting guidance from
Khaleda Zia, the party leader and former prime minister who is in
jail on corruption charges. Still, he believed the BNP was likely
to boycott the polls. BNP activist Barrister Nawshad Jamir said the
party would go to court within two weeks to challenge the
constitutionality of the Caretaker Government holding local
government elections.

6. (SBU) Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Shamsul Huda and
government advisers have reassured parties that holding local
government elections would not delay Parliamentary elections. Major
political parties, however, said they were worried that the military

DHAKA 00000682 002 OF 002


was trying to create its own nationwide political network of
hand-picked candidates willing to support the regime's reform
agenda. Some political parties, including the Jatiya Party headed
by former military dictator Ershad, however, have announced support
to the EC schedule for city polls. According to some press accounts,
the announcement of the polls schedule has aroused some degree of
interest among local party officials and citizens despite opposition
from the major political figures.

-------------------------------------
COMMENT: PARTY POSITIONS COULD CHANGE
-------------------------------------

7. (SBU) If the Awami League believes the candidates it supports can
run strongly, cold political calculations may ultimately result in
it moving away from current opposition to the municipal elections.
The BNP's early threat to resist those elections may simply reflect
the fact it is in no shape to mount an effective campaign while
split between Khaleda Zia loyalists and reformists. The BNP's
decision ultimately may depend on whether the government reaches
political deal that would spring the BNP leader and her two ailing
sons from jail. The Caretaker Government, meanwhile, sees the
holding of municipal and upazilla elections before the Parliament
vote as a means to establish accountable leaders at the local level.
This would prevent the future MP's from ensuring the election of
their cronies at the local level, thereby diminishing the
centralization of previous governments that contributed to
Bangladesh's endemic corruption.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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