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Cablegate: Bangladesh Election Sitrep for December 29

VZCZCXRO5924
OO RUEHAST RUEHBI RUEHCI RUEHLH RUEHNEH RUEHPW
DE RUEHKA #1357/01 3641119
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 291119Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8035
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1916
RUEHGO/AMEMBASSY RANGOON PRIORITY 2718
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA PRIORITY 1620
RHHJJPI/PACOM IDHS HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 001357

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PTER KDEM EAID BG
SUBJECT: BANGLADESH ELECTION SITREP FOR DECEMBER 29

REF: DHAKA 1349

DHAKA 00001357 001.2 OF 002


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

1. (SBU) Tens of millions of Bangladeshis streamed to the
polls on 12/29 for Parliamentary elections; the day was
largely free of the violence that plagued previous votes.
Embassy and other election observers reported only relatively
minor glitches at polling centers before they closed at 1600
local time (0500 Washington). Political parties raised some
allegations of fraud, mismanagement, intimidation and
favoritism, but there was no early evidence of widespread,
systemic problems. Definitive results of the election rematch
between the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party
(BNP), led respectively by former prime ministers Sheikh
Hasina and Khaleda Zia, would likely be available early in
the morning of 12/30, local time. Several Bangladeshi voters
thanked Embassy officers for strong U.S. support for free,
fair and credible elections. The real test, however, will be
whether the parties accept the results peacefully and whether
the winning party allows the losing party to play a
meaningful role in government.

-----------------------------
FESTIVE, VIOLENCE-FREE VOTING
-----------------------------

2. (U) Bangladeshis turned out in large numbers to vote in
the first Parliamentary election in seven years. Lengthy
voter queues snaked outside many polling centers, and Chief
Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda predicted turnout
would reach as high as 75 percent. The atmosphere was festive
despite the long waits, in large part because the vote was
generally free of the violence that wracked previous
elections. Although media reports of partisan kerfuffles
trickled in from several areas, they generally involved few
people and were quickly quelled. Likewise, claims of voter
list discrepancies affected only a small percentage of the 80
million registered voters. (Note: Two years earlier, a
military-backed Caretaker Government imposed emergency rule
amid widespread political violence in the run-up to elections
scheduled for January 2007. The Caretaker Government
subsequently delayed the vote and focused on creating an
environment for free elections and on ridding Bangladesh of
endemic corruption and political violence. End note.)

--------------------------------------------- -----------
EMBASSY OBSERVERS, AMBASSADOR REPORT ONLY MINOR PROBLEMS
--------------------------------------------- -----------

3. (U) Six three-member teams of Embassy observers, one team
for each of Bangladesh's divsions, reported generally smooth
voting. A team of National Democratic Institute observers led
by former U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Howard Schaffer also
reported only minor problems, as did many prominent
politicians contacted by PolOffs throughout the day.
Observers said officials at several polling centers had
trouble finding individual names on the master rolls because
party representatives provided incorrect registration
information to voters. Although the discrepancies led to some
delays, Schaffer said they were "not that big a deal." More
ominously, one senior Bangladeshi reporter said he received
reports from around the country that politicians were buying
votes as in the past, although the allegations were difficult
to prove. Front-page media reports on Election Day reported
the police discovered 4.15 million taka (about USD 60,000),
allegedly to buy votes, hidden in soybean oil cans in a car
belonging to a candidate's son-in-law.

4. (U) Meanwhile, Ambassador Moriarty visited four polling
centers in Dhaka where presiding officers told him operations
went smoothly. At one polling center in Shakhari Bazar in Old
Dhaka, a predominantly Hindu area, smiling voters told the
Ambassador the election would be free and fair. At another
polling center in an area of mostly lower income voters,
elderly and disabled persons had difficulty going up several
floors to vote and required assistance from friends and
relatives. The Ambassador summed up his generally positive
impressions in a live interview with Al Jazeera's English
Channel.

--------------------------------
ON TO THE VOTE COUNT AND RESULTS
--------------------------------

5. (U) Perhaps the greatest test will come after polls close,
when votes are tabulated and the two major political parties

DHAKA 00001357 002.2 OF 002


react to the results. (Note: Polls officially close at 1600
local time but anyone in line then will be allowed to vote.
End note.) Although we expect partial results to be released
throughout the night, we do not expect a clear picture of how
the parties fared until early morning December 30. If the
Awami League wins, as pre-election opinion polling suggests,
all eyes will be on the BNP reaction. During the campaign,
many BNP leaders accused the Caretaker Government of favoring
the Awami League. More allegations of bias and irregularities
were raised by BNP Office Secretary Mohammad Ruhul Kabir
Rizvi at Election Day news conferences, perhaps laying the
groundwork for a protest that, based on past experience,
could turn violent. Still, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia said
before the polls closed that voting had been "fair, so far;"
the son of a BNP Standing Committee member, meanwhile, told
PolEcon Counselor democracy would be the clear winner of the
election.

------------------------
COMMENT: SO FAR, SO GOOD
------------------------

6. (SBU) The vote itself went about as well as could be
expected, with violence at a minimum and generally only minor
glitches at polling stations. In conversations with Embassy
officers, several Bangladeshis expressed their gratitude for
the U.S. Government's strong and consistent support for free,
fair and credible elections as an important factor
contributing to the atypical electoral calm. In meetings with
political leaders just before the polls, Ambassador Moriarty
stressed the importance of honoring the results of a fair
election and rejecting the winner-take-all politics of the
past. If the parties now heed that advice, this election
could be a positive, historical turning point for this young,
predominantly Muslim nation of about 150 million people. A
transformational election could, in turn, create a more
positive environment to pursue USG policies of supporting
democracy, development and denial of space to terrorists.

MORIARTY

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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