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Cablegate: Early Returns Show an Awami League Sweep in Parliamentary

VZCZCXYZ0040
OO RUEHWEB

DE RUEHKA #1358 3650216
ZNR UUUUU ZZH (CCY TXT ADX: 140655 MSI4017 TMC)
O 300216Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8037
INFO RUCNCLS/ALL SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 1918
RUEHGO/AMEMBASSY RANGOON PRIORITY 2720
RHHJJPI/PACOM IDHS HONOLULU HI PRIORITY

UNCLAS DHAKA 001358

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS
C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (ADDING CAPTION)

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR PTER KDEM EAID BG
SUBJECT: EARLY RETURNS SHOW AN AWAMI LEAGUE SWEEP IN PARLIAMENTARY
ELECTIONS

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

1. (SBU) Early unofficial returns from Bangladesh's Parliamentary
elections on 12/29 indicate a landslide victory for the Awami League
led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. The Awami League
spokesman told PolOff that Hasina would offer to work closely with
the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) led by her political rival,
former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. Should Hasina follow through with
such conciliatory gestures she could begin the transformation of
Bangladeshi politics that have been plagued by endemic violence and
a winner-take-all mentality. That would greatly improve prospects of
making this moderate, predominantly Moslem nation of 150 million
people a stable democracy and a reliable partner in the war on
terror.

--------------------------------------------- --
A LANDSLIDE FOR THE AWAMI LEAGUE
--------------------------------------------- --

2. (SBU) As unofficial election results came in the evening of
12/29, giddy Awami League leaders appeared stunned by the scope of
their victory. Party Spokesman Syed Ashraful Islam expected the
Awami League to win up to 210 seats in the 300-member Parliament, a
two-thirds majority that would give the party power to amend the
constitution. Journalists gave similar projections; some said the
Awami League margin could be even higher. Many prominent BNP
national leaders appeared set to lose their seats, including party
Secretary General Khandaker Delwar Hossain, Standing Committee
Members Shamsul Islam and Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, and party
Vice Chairman M.K. Anwar. Another apparent loser was Motiur Rahman
Nizami, the head of the BNP's main political ally, the Islamist
party Jamaat-e-Islami.

-----------------------------------------
AWAMI LEAGUE NEXT STEPS
-----------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Reached by phone in his home constituency, Awami League
Spokesman Ashraf said Sheikh Hasina was preparing a speech in which
she would be "kind and generous" to her opponents and invite them to
work together. Others said the Awami League was mulling how best to
reach out to Khaleda Zia to create an atmosphere of cooperation
between two parties that historically have reveled in tearing one
another down. Hasina also has reportedly urged Awami League
supporters to show restraint in reacting to their victory. Ashraf
said other actions the party would take included increasing the
number of Parliament seats reserved for women and ratifying
Caretaker Government ordinances, many of which were designed to end
endemic political fraud and corruption. He said the party also would
consider reverting back to Bangladesh's 1973 constitution, which
banned political parties organized in the name of religion. That
would be a direct attack on Jamaat-e-Islami, the BNP ally.

--------------------------------------------- -
WHY THE APPARENT WIPE-OUT?
--------------------------------------------- -

4. (SBU) In retrospect, the BNP decision to focus its campaign on
criticism of the two-year-old Caretaker Government appears to have
been a mistake. While high food prices angered many during the past
year, Bangladeshis applauded the Caretaker Government's efforts to
fight endemic corruption. Media reports two weeks before the
election implicating Khaleda Zia's youngest son in a bribery scandal
involving Siemens also may have hurt the BNP. Ashraf argued that
young, first-time voters and women - demographic groups probably
most disillusioned by graft - strongly supported the Awami League.
The election outcome also likely reflects widespread public
dissatisfaction with the 2001-2006 BNP government.

--------------------------------------------- --
COMMENT: HOW WILL THE BNP REACT?
--------------------------------------------- --

5. (SBU) The BNP reaction to the apparent thumping remained unclear
as of 2200 local time on 12/29. Should the party blame the loss on
allegations of media and Caretaker Government bias, what so far has
been an unusually smooth election could yet turn ugly. Sheikh
Hasina's expected victory speech on 12/30 will be an important
opportunity to set a more civil tone to Bangladesh's typically
take-no-prisoners politics, and the Embassy will urge the Awami
League to be magnanimous in victory. Likewise, the Embassy will urge
the BNP to accept the results of what so far appears to have been a
fair and credible election and to play a responsible role in
opposition.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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