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Cablegate: Observers Praise Local Elections, Suggest

VZCZCXRO9430
OO RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #0874/01 2261057
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 131057Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7237
INFO RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO PRIORITY 8561
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 2291
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 9800
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 0771
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA PRIORITY 1405

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 000874

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PHUM PINR PINT BG
SUBJECT: OBSERVERS PRAISE LOCAL ELECTIONS, SUGGEST
IMPROVEMENTS FOR UPCOMING PARLIAMENT POLL

REF: DHAKA 834

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

1. (SBU) Foreign and domestic observers of the August 4 local
government elections gave a qualified thumbs up. They
applauded the peaceful environment of the vote, which the
domestic observers proclaimed as a step forward toward
restoring Bangladesh's electoral system. Still, observers
acknowledged numerous glitches in the electoral process and
made several suggestions to improve the system in time for
the Parliamentary election scheduled for December. Democracy
programs funded by the U.S. Agency for International
Development and other donor organizations will address many
of the problems cited by the observers in the run-up to that
election.

---------------------
A QUALIFIED THUMBS UP
---------------------

2. (SBU) On August 4, Bangladesh held elections for local
mayors and councilors, the first vote held under the
Caretaker Government and with a newly compiled voter
registration list that included photos of 80.5 million people
(reftel). The Election Working Group, a coalition of 33
domestic civil society groups that fielded more than 3,000
observers, said in a preliminary statement that the electoral
process was "acceptable" with room for improvement. The
statement, issued August 6, went on to say the vote was "an
important step in a process towards restoring the integrity
of electoral systems and processes in Bangladesh." Meanwhile,
a draft letter from diplomatic observers, including members
of the U.S. Embassy, to the Election Commission praised "a
peaceful and generally successful election" while noting the
need for improvements in voter registration, poll worker
training, polling center management and voter education and
access.

------------------------------------------
MORE TRAINING, LOWER POLICE PROFILE NEEDED
------------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Although the observers did not find any systemic
problems, they found many inconsistencies in the knowledge
and performance of poll workers. Some, for example, demanded
that voters present their national identification cards or
voter registration numbers provided by candidate agents,
neither of which were required. In many instances, accredited
observers were not allowed into polling centers or were not
allowed to view ballot counting. The Election Working Group
proposed publication of a manual for polling officials that
clearly explains their duties, as well as organization of a
comprehensive training program for presiding officers and
other polling officials.

4. (SBU) Both observer groups found some security forces
behaving inappropriately at polling stations. Foreign
observers cited instances of police and other security forces
participating in the vote count, taking photos with their
cell phones at polling stations, and standing close to voters
as they cast their ballots. The Election Working Group said
some security personnel "used excessive force" against voters
and observers. In the letter to the Election Commission, the
foreign observers suggested polling officials assert more
authority over the management of polling centers to ensure
security forces do not intimidate voters.

5. (SBU) Ten days after the election, the most serious
remaining controversy concerned the race for mayor of
Barisal. In that contest, an Awami League candidate just
squeaked past a surprisingly strong performance by the
candidate from the Progressive Democratic Party (PDP), which
was formed in 2007 by politicians sympathetic with the reform
program of the Caretaker Government. On August 12, the PDP
announced plans to file a protest and to ask for a revote in
several polling stations, claiming problems with the vote
counting and the eligibility of the Awami League candidate.
Syed Ashraful Islam, the acting general secretary of the
Awami League, earlier alleged to PolOff that the PDP
candidate polled strongly in part by handing out money to
local officials and candidates for lower-tier council races.

--------------------------------------------- ---------------
CONCLUSION: U.S. AND OTHER DONORS IN STRONG POSITION TO HELP

DHAKA 00000874 002 OF 002


--------------------------------------------- ---------------

6. (SBU) The hard work by the U.S. Embassy and other foreign
donors to help the Election Commission improve Bangladesh's
electoral system clearly paid off with a generally successful
election for local government. The donor community should do
even more to help the Election Commission ensure the upcoming
Parliament vote is viewed as free and fair. The USG plans to
spend $5.6 million in the run-up to and immediate aftermath
of that election to, among other things, train about 500,000
political party polling agents and help candidates understand
new electoral rules. In addition, donor funding pooled by the
United Nations Development Program will train polling
officers. As a result, there is good reason to believe the
kinks in the electoral system observed in the August 4 vote
can be ironed out in time for the critical Parliament
election.
Moriarty

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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