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Cablegate: Critical Undp Report On "Hartals" Generates

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. SUMMARY: UNDP has released a report detailing the
socio-economic costs and popular antipathy to hartals, or
nationwide political protest strikes. END SUMMARY.

2. In "Beyond Hartals: Towards Democratic Dialogue in
Bangladesh," a distinguished panel of Bangladeshi academics
and journalists, backed by the local SIRIUS Marketing and
Social Research Ltd, interviewed thousands of Bangladeshis,
in all parts of Bangladesh, to determine the national impact
and perspective on hartals. The polling sample included
politicians, student leaders, average citizens, and street
toughs paid to enforce the strikes. The report also reviews
the historical pattern of hartals between 1947 and 2002.

3. Key findings include:

-- 95% of respondents believe that hartals have a negative
impact on the economy;
-- 70% believe there are political alternatives to hartals,
such as public rallies, parliamentary debate, and road
-- 50% believe that politicians gain financially from calling
hartals; but
-- 63%, believe that hartals are a legitimate democratic tool;
-- Between 1991 and 2002, there were 827 hartals called by
the Awami League or the Bangladesh Nationalist Party with
almost equal frequency.

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3. The report notes a growing determination by business and
civil society to pursue "business as usual" during hartals.
Today's hartals do not generate enough popular support to be
as long or as violent as were hartals in the 1980's and
before, and often now coincide with weekends to minimize
actual disruption.

4. The economic impact of hartals, it says, is often short
term for business but long term for students when class and
examination schedules are disrupted. However, the cost of
hartals during the 1990's was an estimated 3-4% of GDP, and
it was felt by both rural and urban communities. In the
formal transportation and street vending sectors, hartal
earnings are 50-60% less than normal. Major losses are
recorded by some factories over lost shipments and customer
dissatisfaction, leading to permanent loss of business and
foreign direct investment. The cost of essential items is
driven up, which primarily hurts the poor. Women are the
most adversely affected group, primarily due to the
insecurity of hartals that makes it difficult for them to
accomplish daily tasks or go to work.

5. The report enumerates a series of long- and short-term
constructive alternatives to hartals and solutions to the
underlying problems that promote them, including social
mobilization that does not involve work stoppages. To
address one problem often cited by political parties to
justify hartals, the opposition's inability to participate
effectively in Parliament and the existing electoral
framework, the report suggests reforms that, if enacted,
should make hartals redundant.

6. Comment: The report details what everyone in Bangladesh
already knows: hartals are economically damaging and
enormously unpopular.


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