- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2007

Voting in Bangladesh

The United States is urging the caretaker government of Bangladesh to ensure that this month’s elections are free of violence and fraud and to encourage all political parties to take part in the vote.

The major political opposition alliance and two smaller parties have announced a boycott of the Jan. 22 parliamentary elections after accusing the government of political bias in favor of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). The interim administration assumed power in October after BNP leader Begum Khaleda Zia ended her five-year term as prime minister.

The U.S. Embassy last week called on the interim government and the electoral commission to “act swiftly and impartially to create conditions under which all parties can participate.”

“Likewise we call on all parties to set aside narrow, partisan agendas and join together in serious, constructive dialogue to create an acceptable environment for participation by all major parties in the election,” the embassy added.

The opposition alliance led by the Awami League, the Jatiya Party of former military ruler Hossain Mohammad Ershad and the Liberal Democratic Party of ex-president A.Q.M. Badruddoza Chowdhury have accused the government of stacking the electoral commission with supporters of the BNP.

Last month, U.S. Ambassador Patricia A. Butenis reminded Bangladeshis of their history of violent elections and emphasized the importance of a vote that is free of political manipulation.

“This will be the most-observed election in Bangladesh’s history, with tens of thousands of Bangladeshi monitors and hundreds of foreign monitors blanketing the country,” she said in a speech to Bangladeshi students.

More than 90 U.S. election observers are due to cover the elections, she said.

“The stakes are high for Bangladesh. … First, it is crucial that all parties participate in the elections. The people of Bangladesh deserve to have choices that reflect the diversity of opinion, philosophy and even style that exists in this country’s politics,” Miss Butenis said.

“But at the end of the day, this election belongs to you. It is your duty to participate, to vote and to hold your political leaders accountable for their performance and their promises. Democracy does not end on polling day. It starts on polling day and continues in parliament and other democratic forums,” she said.

The ambassador noted that the United States is interested in the fairness of the election and does not favor any particular party.

Bangladesh has suffered sporadic political violence since last year and deadly terrorist attacks by the Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh since August 2005.

Diplomatic traffic

Foreign visitors in Washington this week include:

Today

• Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, who meets President Bush and congressional leaders. He holds a 2:30 p.m. press conference at the commission’s Washington office, 2300 M St. NW.

• Finance Minister Koji Omi of Japan, who addresses the Center for Strategic and International Studies about the upcoming election to the upper house of the Japanese legislature.

• Santiago Levy, Mexico’s former deputy finance minister, who addresses the Brookings Institution about poverty in Mexico.

Wednesday

• Princess Dana Firas of Jordan, who participates in a briefing hosted by the Worldwatch Institute on the “State of the World 2007: Our Urban Future” at the National Press Club at 12:30 p.m.

Friday

• Deputy Prime Minister Maud Olofsson of Sweden and Swedish executives Leif Johansson, president of the Volvo Group, and Jan-Ake Jonsson, chief executive officer of Saab, who discuss alternative energy technology in a daylong seminar at the House of Sweden.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@ washingtontimes.com.

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