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09DHAKA762 2009-08-03 07:12:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Dhaka
Cable title:  

PRIME MINISTER SIDELINES OLD GUARD AND

Tags:   PGOV PREL PINR PINS KDEM EAID BG 
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1. (C) When General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam unveiled
the new AL Central Committee July 30 it became apparent that
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was no longer willing to
"forgive, but not forget" those who betrayed her during the
two-year Caretaker Government. Four senior party leaders
were dropped from the Awami League Presidium, while a number
of mid-level officials also lost their positions in the
Central Committee. The following day, Hasina appointed six
new members to her Cabinet and reshuffled the portfolios of
four existing Ministers. Her appointments, both to the new
Central Committee and the Cabinet, continued the trend of
elevating relative unknowns which she began with the original
Ministerial appointments in January. Hasina declared that
the new appointments pointed to the future of the party and
the government and said the new Ministers had been chosen to
implement her government's agenda. Most observers agreed
that Hasina had succeeded in further consolidating her grip
on the party, perhaps at the expense of the government's
efficiency.

Awami League Council Puts Its Faith in Hasina
=============================================



2. (C) The Representation of the People's Ordinance of 2008,
subsequently ratified by Bangladesh's Parliament with minor
changes during its first sitting, required Bangladesh's
political parties to amend their constitutions as a condition
for registration by the Election Commission. The RPO further
required the political parties to hold Council Meetings
within 180 days to ratify the amendments. After first
signaling that it would seek an extension, the ruling Awami
League instead hastily organized a Council Meeting on July
24, the first such meeting in seven years. In addition to
ratifying the amendments to its party constitution, the
Councilors were charged with electing a party President,
General Secretary, and Central Committee.

Reformist Wins Out for AL General Secretary
===========================================



3. (C) While it was no surprise that Prime Minister Sheikh
Hasina would be re-elected AL President, there were several
contenders for the post of General Secretary going into the
party conclave. In a victory for true reformers, former
Joint General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam was elevated to
the General Secretary post, replacing veteran party leader
Abdul Jalil who resigned days ahead of the Council Meeting.
Ashraf's main rival, fellow Joint General Secretary Obaidul
Kader, was subsequently elevated to the Awami League's
Presidium. Ashraf's father, Awami League Vice President Syed
Nazrul Islam, was killed in Dhaka Central Jail in November
1975 along with three other senior AL leaders. During the
CTG period, Ashraf served as Acting General Secretary while
Jalil and Kader were imprisoned on corruption charges.

Democratic Centralism Trumps Party Constitution
============================================= ==



3. (C) According to the AL constitution, Councilors were
charged with electing 47 of the 73 members of the party
executive committee, leaving the President the responsibility
of choosing 26 others in consultation with the Presidium
within 21 days of the party Council Meeting. Instead, at
this year's party conclave Councilors gave the Party
President and General Secretary the responsibility for
filling all the slots. This decision provoked some grumbling
from party members and criticism from the media, who
questioned why the ruling party had ignored one of the
central tenets of its newly approved constitution.

New AL Central Committee Sidelines Old Guard "Reformers"
============================================= ===========



4. (C) For almost a week after the Council Meeting, Dhaka's
political elite speculated about the fate of party
"reformers" who had conspired with the Army during the
Caretaker Government period to sideline Hasina. Most
speculation centered on the fate of veteran Parliamentarians
Abdur Razzak, Amir Hossain Amu, Tofail Ahmed, and Suranjit
Sen Gupta--collectively knows as the R.A.T.S. Others seen as
vulnerable included party organizing secretaries Saber

DHAKA 00000762 002 OF 003


Hossain Chowdhury and his six colleagues. Most observers
expected Hasina to make examples of at least some reformers,
but few believed she would take on all of them at once. In
particular, Razzak and Sen Gupta appeared to many to be safe,
given their long-standing ties to India. As the days passed
following the Council Meeting, one Minister told us that
"only God and Sheikh Hasina" knew what would happen.

Decapitating the Disloyal
=========================



5. (C) Hasina decided to send a clear message regarding the
price to be paid for disloyalty, removing all four "RATS"
from the Presidium and dumping all seven previous Organizing
Secretaries. The four senior leaders were relegated to the
ceremonial party Advisory Committee. In their places, Hasina
elevated Ministers Razi Uddin Ahmed Razu, Abdul Latif
Siddique, and Sahara Khatun, as well as Kader and Satish
Chandra Roy to the Presidium. Hasina filled two of three
Joint General Secretary positions, nominating Foreign
Minister Dr. Dipu Moni and Mahbub al Alam Hanif as Ashraf's
deputies. Of the new Organizing Secretaries, only State
Minister Jahangir Kabir Nanak was well known prior to his
elevation. Hanif's main qualification seemed to be his
family relationship to one of Hasina's cousins, whose father
was also killed along with Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on August
15, 1975.

Cabinet Reshuffle Again Rewards Loyalty Over Experience
============================================= ==========



6. (C) For weeks the media has speculated about an impending
Cabinet reshuffle. From her first Cabinet Meeting in
January, Hasina had warned Ministers they would be judged
based on their performance and could lose their jobs if they
failed to perform. Many speculated that Hasina would be
forced to admit senior party leaders from the AL and its
coalition partners into the Cabinet as part of a reshuffle.
Some thought that Hasina would offer Cabinet positions to the
RATS in order to preempt any attempts to cause problems
within the party after losing their seats in the Presidium.
The need for a reshuffle became more pressing once State
Minister for Home Affairs Tanjim Ahmed Sohel Taj resigned
from the Cabinet, leaving a key vacancy to be filled.

Unknows Elevated, Portfolios Reshuffled
=======================================



7. (C) Hasina again defied conventional wisdom July 31 with
the appointment of six relative unknowns to the Council of
Ministers. The new Cabinet Members included Members of
Parliamen Shahjahan Khan, Promod Mankin, Mujibur Rahman
Fakir, Mahbubur Rahman, Enamul Haque and Shirin Sharmin
Chowdhury. At the same time, Hasina reshuffled the portfolio
of four existing Ministers, leaving the following lineup:

Newly Appointed:

Shipping: Minister Shahjahan Khan
Energy and Power: State Minister Brig (ret)
Enamul Haq
Cultural Affairs: State Minister Promod Mankin
Health and Family Welfare: State Minister Mujibur
Rahman Fakir
Water Resources: State Minister Mahbubur Rahman
Women and Children's Affairs: State Minister Shirin Sharmin
Chowdhury

Reassigned:

Primary and Mass Education: Minister Afsarul Amin (from
Shipping)
Home Affairs: State Minister Shamsul Haque Tuku
(from Energy)
Environment: State Minister Dr. Hasan Mahmud (from
Foreign Affairs)
Land: State Minister Mustafizur Rahman Fizar (from
Environment)

Cabinet Expanded
================



8. (C) With the new inductions, Hasina's Cabinet grew to
include 24 Ministers and 18 State Ministers. In addition,
she has appointed seven Advisers with Ministerial rank,
including recently appointed Foreign Affairs Adviser Dr.
Gowher Rizvi. The Cabinet included two Buddhists, one Hindu,

DHAKA 00000762 003 OF 003


and with the addition of Promod Mankin, one Christian. The
appointment of Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury increased the number
of female Cabinet members to six. While larger than her
Cabinet during the 1996 - 2001 period, Hasina has not reached
the level set by the previous BNP-led government, which
included a record 60 members in the Council of Ministers. Of
note, despite the warnings to Cabinet Members that they would
be judged based on their performance, Hasina chose not to
drop any Ministers as part of the reshuffle.

Comment
=======



9. (C) With the formation of the new party Central Committee
and the expansion of the Cabinet, Hasina has underscored the
premium she places on loyalty. While some party stalwarts
dropped from the Central Committee and excluded from the
Cabinet were guilty of actively conspiring against Hasina,
others were apparently dropped for not being sufficiently
loyal--sins of omission rather than commission. Even some of
Hasina's closest allies fear the AL leader may have gone too
far by dropping so many senior leaders in one blow. By
promoting so many new leaders, most of whom have little or no
executive experience, Hasina is taking a significant risk.
At the same time, Hasina has sent the message (intentional or
not) that more than ever, all power is concentrated in her
hands. In our view, the biggest risk Hasina runs by
surrounding herself with loyalists is that nobody will be
able or willing to speak up when she is about to make a
mistake. On the plus side, Hasina has clearly indicated her
choices for future leadership of the party. Meanwhile, all
eyes will turn to the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party
as it begins the process leading towards its Party Council
later this year. Many are asking whether BNP Chairperson
Khaleda Zia will follow Hasina's lead and banish the
reformists in her party's midst.
MORIARTY