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Cablegate: National Elections Set for 18 December; Will Be Held Before

VZCZCXRO8159
PP RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #0999/01 2661039
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 221039Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7423
INFO RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 8609
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 2339
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 9853
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 0825
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 1452

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 000999

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPT FOR SCA/PB, SCA/FO, DRL KBERGLUND

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KDEM PHUM SOCI PREL ECON BG
SUBJECT: NATIONAL ELECTIONS SET FOR 18 DECEMBER; WILL BE HELD BEFORE
LOCAL ELECTIONS

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed announced September 20 that
parliamentary elections would take place December 18 and Upazila, or
sub-district (county equivalent), elections would be held later in
the month. The Chief Adviser also declared that the State of
Emergency would be relaxed to allow for increased campaigning. In
general, political parties have reacted favorably to the
announcement, but still have many concerns, most notably regarding
the State of Emergency. By agreeing to hold the national elections
first, the Caretaker Government (CTG) has indicated its willingness
to compromise with the parties. Now the onus is on the political
parties and their leaders to reciprocate.

ELECTION DATES DECEMBER 18, 24, 28
-----------------------

2. (U) In a televised address to the nation in the evening of
September 20, the Chief Adviser announced that parliamentary
elections would be held December 18 and that Upazila elections would
be held in two tranches, on December 24 and 28. Notably, the
Caretaker Government made the announcement, not the Bangladesh
Election Commission (BEC), which unfortunately served to sideline
and marginalize the Commission's role in the upcoming elections. In
his address the Chief Adviser said that both leaders of the Awami
League and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP) have agreed to
participate in the upcoming national polls. The Chief Adviser
suggested the State of Emergency would not be lifted entirely until
after elections, though he said it would be relaxed to allow
political parties to campaign.

PARTIES, BUSINESS, GOVERNMENT REACT POSITIVELY
--------------------

3. (U) The two major political parties hailed the Chief Adviser's
announcement of the date of national elections. Awami League
leaders welcomed the statement and called on all political parties
to participate. They noted that the remaining electoral issues can
be worked out through a consultative process with the BEC. BNP
leaders also welcomed the announcement of the date of national
elections, but were more critical in their comments, particularly
with regard to lifting the State of Emergency and Upazila elections.
The BNP remains uncommitted to participating in Upazila elections.
The Caretaker Government recognized the importance of announcing a
definitive date for the parliamentary elections and noted that
holding Upazila elections after national elections would help ensure
participation by all major political parties in the upcoming polls.
Business leaders also welcomed the speech as it eliminates
uncertainty regarding the return of a democratically elected
government, which should encourage greater economic stablity.

CONCERNS OVER LIFTING STATE OF EMERGENCY, UPAZILA ELECTIONS
------------------------------------------

3. (U) The political parties continue to call on the Caretaker
Government to fully lift the State of Emergency in order to create
an atmosphere that will allow for free, fair, and credible
elections. Awami League Acting General Secretary Syed Ashraful
Islam noted that elections under a State of Emergency would not be
acceptable, especially by the international community. (Note: The
Diplomatic Corps and Capitals have not been presenting a unified
position on the need to fully retract the State of Emergency. End
Note.)

4. (SBU) Prior to the Chief Adviser's announcement, all political
parties had vehemently opposed holding Upazila elections before
national elections. While the Caretaker Government has now
compromised on this point, the parties have complained that the
dates of the national and Upazila elections are scheduled too close
together. There are both questions of the BEC's capacity to manage
multiple elections schedules as well as political concerns about
parallel elections campaigns. Some argue that if Upazila elections
are not held by January 1, they will need to be further delayed to
allow time for the yearly update of electoral rolls required to
register new eligible voters. This adds to the Government's sense
of urgency to hold Upazila polls partly on December 24 and partly on
December 28 to avoid having these non-partisan elections for
sub-national government posts become wholly politicized. Clearly
most political parties would like to delay the Upazila elections
further in order to ensure that their own local party officials can
be elected and to have greater influence over that electoral
process.

COMMENT

DHAKA 00000999 002 OF 002


-------

5. (SBU) The announcement establishing election dates is a positive
step for Bangladesh. There will likely be further discussions
between the parties and the Caretaker Government regarding the State
of Emergency and Upazila elections. Thus far, the Caretaker
Government has made several key concessions to the political
parties. It is now up to the parties to show they are prepared to
behave differently from previous elections, which were marred by
corruption and violence.


Moriarty

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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