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Cablegate: Bangladesh Political Parties Unveil Election

VZCZCXRO8295
RR RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHLH RUEHNEH RUEHPW
DE RUEHKA #1309/01 3521029
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 171029Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7961
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1890
RUEHGO/AMEMBASSY RANGOON 2698
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 001309

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/PB, PASS TO PEACE CORPS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON PREL KDEM ENRG BG
SUBJECT: BANGLADESH POLITICAL PARTIES UNVEIL ELECTION
PLATFORMS

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Bangladesh's political parties pledged to tackle
poverty, corruption and poor governance, and the nation's
energy crisis as part of their election platforms, which were
released over the weekend. The election manifestos of the
two main parties, the Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh
Nationalist Party (BNP), contained many similarities; some
local experts learned that certain measures from the BNP
platform, released a day after the Awami League's, were
lifted directly from the AL manifesto. Both parties placed
greater emphasis than previously on addressing corruption,
improving governance and working with opponents in
Parliament. That said, many here remain skeptical of the
parties' commitment to their platforms, participating with
respect to political reform measures and to ambitious
economic proposals.

AWAMI LEAGUE: CHARTER FOR CHANGE
--------------------------------

2. (SBU) Awami League President and former Prime Minister
Sheikh Hasina presented her party's manifesto December 12,
calling it a "Charter for Change." (NOTE: Many observers
noted the slogan's similarity to President-elect Obama's
campaign slogan. END NOTE.) The manifesto identified five
priority issues:

--maintaining economic stability and controlling inflation;
--moving effectively against corruption;
--addressing power and energy shortfalls;
--eliminating poverty and "inequity," and,
--establishing good governance.

As part of these priorities, Sheikh Hasina vowed to reduce
prices, strengthen the Anti-Corruption Commission, double
power production in five years, lift 20 million people out of
poverty, and control terrorism and religious extremism. She
also spoke of strengthening Parliament, making members of
Parliament more accountable to constituents and permitting
greater dissent.

3. (SBU) Despite these statements favoring political reform,
the manifesto and Sheikh Hasina's speech painted the BNP and
its ally, the Jamaat-e-Islami, as the root causes of
Bangladesh's problems. Hasina attacked the BNP-Jamaat
alliance, accusing it of abusing power, systematically
violating human rights, looting national resources, and
running the economy into the ground. On a positive note,
Hasina made a direct appeal to Bangladesh's youth and new
voters, promising employment to at least one young person in
every Bangladeshi family and vowing to build a brighter
future for the "young generation." Local observers noted
that the pointed appeal to youth and newly-registered voters
was a new tactic on the part of a Bangladeshi political
party, traditionally, the parties here have relied on
mobilizing their traditional base of voters.

BNP: SAVE THE COUNTRY, SAVE THE PEOPLE
--------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Chairperson and
former Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia unveiled her party's
manifesto December 13, a day after the Awami League released
its platform. The BNP's slogan is "Save the Country, Save
the People." We asked one high-ranking BNP official what was
the BNP saving the country and people from? According to
that official, the answer is, "Poverty." Many of the BNP
manifesto's priorities were identical to those of the Awami
League, including curbing inflation, strengthening the
Anti-Corruption Commission, combating terrorism and ensuring
a job for at least one person in every Bangladeshi family.

5. (SBU) The BNP manifesto included measures aimed at
creating a more responsible political system in Bangladesh,
including a stronger Parliament where the opposition
political party would play a more constructive role. As a
means of achieving this, the BNP manifesto proposed naming a
member of the opposition the Deputy Speaker of Parliament.
While this proposal did not show up in the Awami League's
manifesto, media and local observers noted this idea
originated with the Awami League. In its manifesto, the BNP
refrained from attacking its arch-rival, the Awami League,
but the BNP did lay blame for Bangladesh's problems at the

DHAKA 00001309 002 OF 002


feet of the current Caretaker Government. Though it did not
provide specifics, the BNP manifesto pledged to reform the
constitutionally-mandated caretaker government mechanism.

JATIYA AND JAMAAT ALSO RELEASE MANIFESTOS
-----------------------------------------

6. (SBU) The Awami League's and BNP's main political
partners - the Jatiya Party and Jamaat-e-Islami, respectively
- also released their manifestos over the weekend. Both
Jatiya and Jamaat included measures to protect the poor and
ensure food security in their platforms. All four political
parties vowed to protect Islam in some fashion. Jamaat, as
well as the Jatiya Party, proposed the introduction of a
blasphemy law. The Awami League and BNP focused on
preventing religious extremism. In her speech unveiling the
AL manifesto Sheikh Hasina noted Bangladesh's solidarity with
the Muslim world and her commitment to working with the
member nations of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

REACTIONS MIXED
---------------

7. (SBU) Local observers welcomed the manifestos, but noted
that the exercise was largely academic since the parties
would be quick to change their stance on any issue as needed.
One businessman claimed that if the Awami League implemented
all the measures outlined in its manifesto, it would cost
Bangladesh close to $200 billion. The manifesto's promises
exceeded the capacity of a poor country like Bangladesh, with
a GDP of $70 billion a year, the businessman said. For its
part, the BNP included measures in its manifesto that it
promised to implement when it came to power in 2001, but did
not. One of these recycled promises was the abolition of the
Special Powers Act, which critics claim various governments
have used to suppress political opposition.

COMMENT
-------

8. (SBU) The Awami League and BNP manifestos, and their
similarity to each other, cast into sharp relief the fact
that the rivalry between the two main political parties is
based on personality, not policy differences. While the
educated classes of Bangladesh are likely to be aware of the
platforms, the poor are not, and politicians traditionally do
not use or refer to the manifestos while campaigning.

9. (SBU) The presentation of the manifestos also reflected
the state of organization within the parties. The Awami
League event December 12 was preceded by printed invitations
in English and Bangla. The AL distributed printed and
electronic English versions of the manifesto and Sheikh
Hasina's speech. After Sheikh Hasina presented the
manifesto, AL handlers invited diplomats and business
representatives to have tea with the former Prime Minister.
In contrast, the BNP event was poorly organized.
Notification of the event came through the media and word of
mouth. Neither Begum Zia's speech nor the manifesto itself
was available in English. While the Awami League has a
reputation for being more organized than the BNP during
events like this, the BNP's late commitment to participate in
the December 29 elections appears to have added to the
confusion.
MORIARTY

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