Saturday, April 7, 2007

Elections Postponed in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has announced there will be no parliamentary elections for eighteen months. From The Daily Star:
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda yesterday said the Election Commission (EC) will not think about holding any elections either to parliament or local government bodies in next one and a half years.

"During this time, we will simultaneously prepare a voter list with photographs and national identity cards. Once the massive task is done, we will think about holding elections. But now we cannot give any timeline when the elections are likely to be held," the CEC told a press briefing.

When the electoral roll is prepared, there would be a lot of other tasks to be done. The government will have to create a congenial atmosphere for elections, he said.

"So, we cannot say that parliamentary elections will be held just after 18 months. We will be ready for elections after 18 months if everything goes smoothly."
Eighteen months is a long time, but given the arduous task of preparing a new—and valid—voter list, it is a pretty realistic time limit, presuming the caretaker government sticks to it. And by setting a tentative timetable, Bangladesh is hoping to head off any concerns by the international community, which, sooner or later, will demand elections.

None of the major political parties are going to like this, of course, especially the Awami League, who were poised to win the election. But it was they who complained the loudest about irregularities regarding the voter list (and even threatened to boycott the election because of it!), so it is they, more than anyone, who should appreciate the tasks the caretaker government is undertaking to ensure the elections are free and fair.

Nevertheless, this does not mean the caretaker government can do anything it wants in the interim. No. Its feet should be constantly be held to the fire. Currently, the caretaker government is beholden to no one except to itself and the military that backs it. It should be reminded from time to time that Bangladesh is a democracy, not a dictatorship, and people will demand its return.

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