Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06DHAKA4435
2006-07-20 01:16:00
CONFIDENTIAL
Embassy Dhaka
Cable title:  

PARTIES INCH CLOSER TO TALKS AS PRE-ELECTION GAMES

Tags:  PGOV PREL PHUM ASEC CASC BG 
pdf how-to read a cable
VZCZCXRO5709
RR RUEHCI
DE RUEHKA #4435/01 2010116
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 200116Z JUL 06
FM AMEMBASSY DHAKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9892
INFO RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 8615
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 9218
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 7511
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 1205
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL CALCUTTA
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 004435 

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/17/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM ASEC CASC BG
SUBJECT: PARTIES INCH CLOSER TO TALKS AS PRE-ELECTION GAMES
CONTINUE


Classified By: Acting P/E Counselor David Renz; reason 1.4(d)

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DHAKA 004435

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/17/2016
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM ASEC CASC BG
SUBJECT: PARTIES INCH CLOSER TO TALKS AS PRE-ELECTION GAMES
CONTINUE


Classified By: Acting P/E Counselor David Renz; reason 1.4(d)


1. (C) SUMMARY. The opposition Awami League appeared to score
a string of victories. The Election Commission retreated
from the last of its controversial decisions regarding
implementation of the Supreme Court decision on the voter
list, and the BDG withdrew two amendment proposals that had
generated AL criticism. At the same time both main parties
started coming under pressure from the business community to
sit down for face-to-face talks, and the BNP attempted to
open a back-channel for negotiating with the AL. END SUMMARY

ELECTION COMMISSION FLIP-FLOPS...AGAIN
======================================


2. (U) On July 9 the Election Commission (EC) reversed itself
and announced that it would go door-to-door to conduct
registration to update the voter list. This represented the
final retreat for the EC from its controversial stances on
how to implement the Supreme Court decision that nullified
the new voter list prepared by the EC earlier this year.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Aziz said that in taking
this decision he was bowing to public pressure.


3. (U) The EC created a new controversy the same day by
announcing that it would not be posting a draft list, but
would simply create a final list that could be amended up
until the election. This created considerable negative
coverage in the media, which accused the CEC of once again
acting arbitrarily and ignoring past practice. The CEC
defended the decision by saying that there was not sufficient
time to post a draft list and have another official
corrections period.

AMENDMENT CONTROVERSY TAKES CENTER STAGE
========================================


4. (U) The controversies regarding the voter list were
momentarily set aside as the opposition Awami League focused
its criticism on government moves to pass an amendment to the
constitution. The proposed amendment would have extended the
deadline required for by-elections for parliamentary seats

vacated near the end of a parliament's term from 90 to 180
days. Under current law, although the parliament must be
dissolved by late October, by-elections are still required by
mid-September to fill the seats of two recently deceased BNP
MPs. The amendment would have prevented the need for these
by-elections, which according to Law Minister Moudad Ahmed
would ease pressure on the EC to organize two by-elections in
the midst of trying to update the voter list.


5. (C) In public statements the AL seized on this amendment
proposal as "another threat to democracy." At a private
dinner for the Ambassador on July 10, AL Presidium Member and
MP Suranjit Sengupta told us that through this amendment "the
government was trying to stay in office indefinitely" and
that this was all "a plot to undermine democracy in
Bangladesh." AL General Secretary Abdul Jalil added that the
amendment was "undemocratic" and another effort by the BNP to
"take more power and manipulate the elections." Under
criticism from the media and opposition the BDG withdrew the
proposal on July 12.

POSSIBLE BNP-AL TALKS?
======================


6. (C) Independent MP Anwar Hossain Manju told us that on
July 6 he was summoned to a two-hour meeting with Prime
Minister Khaleda Zia. According to Manju, the PM appealed to
him to convince the AL to participate in the coming
elections. Manju said that he believed the PM was motivated
by concern for the legitimacy of the elections if the AL
refused to take part.


7. (C) Manju said that he told the PM that he would speak to
the AL back-channel, but that she would also have to take
certain measures. He told her that to start with the CEC
would have to be replaced. He said that though she defended
the CEC she "didn't say no." Manju also said that the PM
spoke of her concern that the elections be "free and fair,"
to which he replied that the best Bangladesh could hope for
would be "relatively free and fair" and that everyone knew
there were going to be problems.


8. (C) On July 10 Manju secretly met with BNP General

DHAKA 00004435 002 OF 002


Secretary Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan at Bhuiyan's request. Bhuiyan

SIPDIS
asked him to convey the BNP's proposal for talks to the AL.
Manju conveyed the offer personally to Sheikh Hasina on July

11. On July 12 the AL called Manju to tell him they accepted
the dialogue "with reluctance," saying "we have no objections
to a dialogue with (Bhuiyan)" but that they were skeptical
Bhuiyan had enough authority to make decisions. Manju then
took this AL "no objection" back to Bhuiyan, asking that the
two sides formalize the offer by making it public.


9. (C) At the same time that these secret meetings were
taking place, business leaders were also appealing to the BNP
and AL to sit down and talk. Officials from several business
organizations, including the Federation of Bangladesh
Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and the Bangladesh
Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) met
with both Jalil and Bhuiyan, asking them to sit down to talks
to resolve the political impasse, adding that the business
community expected a "fair and acceptable election." Bhuiyan
stated after his meeting with the leaders on July 13 that he
was open to such a dialogue "if the proposal comes from the
Awami League."


10. (C) Manju told us later that he did not understand why
Bhuiyan was insisting the proposal come from the AL. "He had
told me he would consult the Prime Minister with replies from
the AL," Manju told us. Manju said that he was now stepping
down as "discreet negotiator" though he was prepared to
resume the role if there were any further developments.


11. (U) Now that word of the discussions have leaked out, the
parties have returned to the posturing that characterized
earlier attempts to negotiate reforms. Business groups
remain active in trying to bring the two parties together,
and may unilaterally invite both parties to meet at a
specific time and place, hoping neither will want to be a
no-show.

COMMENT
=======


12. (C) Most of these developments simply reflect the
continued positioning and counter-positioning of the two main
parties. However, with the EC in full retreat from its
original plans on how to implement the Supreme Court decision
for the new voter list, and with the BDG withdrawing its
proposed amendment, the AL appears to have scored a couple of
minor victories at the BNP's expense.


13. (C) The fact that the PM herself requested a back-channel
to the AL indicates the seriousness of her concern about a
potential AL boycott. By finally agreeing to sit down
one-on-one with the AL, the BNP has the most to lose since
this will be viewed as an abandonment of its earlier
insistence on no talks without the participation of its
coalition partners. For the AL's part, its main weapon to
date has been the threat of a boycott. Ironically, the AL's
recent, relatively minor victories could serve to demonstrate
the responsiveness of the system to the party's concerns and
thus undermine the justification for a boycott. With its
boycott threat starting to look hollow, the AL may need to
start focusing on what its bottom line will be with regard to
electoral and caretaker government reform.
BUTENIS