Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Lord Avebury, co-chairing a conference on RISE OF POLITICAL ISLAM IN BANGLADESH? WHAT'S AT STAKE IN THE 2007 ELECTIONS, organised by Policy Exchange, 'Think Tank of the year 2006/7', at The Ideas Forum, 10 Storey's Gate, London SW1, at 10.00 on November 14, said

This is a critical moment in the affairs of Bangladesh, which is likely to determine whether the political parties can agree on the steps that are to be taken to ensure free and fair elections, or, in the absence of any agreement, the people are denied the right to choose their next government.

The 14-party opposition alliance opposition has tabled a series of demands which they say are essential to secure a level playing field. They want the Election Commission to be reconstituted; the voter list to be revised, and 300 local election officials who they say were political appointees to be replaced, and have taken to the streets in an effort to force the caretaker administration to act.

Meanwhile Begum Khaleda Zia, BNP Chairperson, says she wants a free, fair and transparent general election in time according to the Constitution. But can this happen without some changes?

What can be done to secure a level playing field within the limited powers available to the caretaker administration, and does this depend on getting the agreement of the main political parties? How can violence be avoided, when already there has been one death and a number of injuries in the blockade, in spite of the restraint shown by the BNP? How can the terrorists whose murders of judges and politicians, and attacks on prominent figures including the leader of the opposition and the British High Commissioner be prevented from taking advantage of the uncertainties of the next two months in the run-up to polling day? What are the prospects for isolating the political extremists from whose ranks the terrorists are recruited? How can the rights of minorities and women to participate in the election be maintained? Is it possible to rectify the voters’ list, with its 11 million phantom voters according to the NDI calculations, in the few weeks that remain? Would there be a chance of at least some improvement with a different Chief Election Commissioner and other members of the Commission, or is it already too late?

These are some of the issues no doubt being explored by the four caretaker advisers under Dr Akbar Ali Khan who are now consulting the political parties and with whom rests the best hope of resolving the present impasse. With the country paralysed, it is absolutely vital to find a way out through dialogue rather than confrontation.

The European Union and the Commonwealth have already sent delegations to Bangladesh to pre-assess the prospects for free and fair elections, and the NDI not only sent a mission but published a report two months ago containing useful recommendations. Richard Boucher, US Under-Secretary of State, has been in Dhaka for the last few days talking to political leaders. The strength of the concern by the international community for the success of the Bangladesh elections is also indicated by the large number of observers who will be there, and by your attendance here today, in the presence of a distinguished galaxy of speakers, you underline the importance we attach to the preservation of Bangladeshi democracy here in the UK.

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