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Statement on Bangladesh Elections

Dhaka, Bangladesh -- A National Democratic Institute (NDI)/Carter Center delegation to Bangladesh led by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter resulted in the first meeting since last November between political rivals Sheikh Hasina, leader of the Awami League, and Begum Khaleda Zia, leader of the Bangladeshi Nationalist Party. The leaders of the two main political parties in Bangladesh made commitments to the delegation which can ensure a more democratic and peaceful parliamentary election, expected by October this year, as well as a more stable political environment following the polls.

The delegation emphasized Bangladesh's steady progress toward institutionalizing democracy and noted the serious challenges that remain. In a statement, presented on August 4 by President Carter and Cambodian opposition political leader and Member of Parliament Tioulong Saumura, the delegation noted, "The largest single obstacle to ensuring a democratic environment is the hostility between the two major parties that breeds politically motivated disharmony and violence." The statement continued, "Our interactions with the leaders of these two parties and the points of agreement that we could identify between them, give us reason to hope that the political will can be found to establish a more constructive political process in these elections."

The five points on which Sheikh Hasina and Begum Khaleda Zia, who have both served as prime minister, agreed with the delegation included renouncing the use of violence, the collection of weapons and committing their parties to compliance with the Election Commission's Code of Conduct for Political Parties.

In addition, they indicated their agreement that domestic election monitoring should be encouraged for the upcoming elections; that the new parliament should increase opportunities for women to serve as members; and that the new parliament should institutionalize mechanisms to ensure a meaningful role for the opposition, including that the Speaker of Parliament, once chosen, would function in a nonpartisan capacity. They also pledged not to boycott the next parliament and renounced the use of hartals (general strikes.)

The six-member NDI/Carter Center delegation also made several recommendations for improving the electoral process, and called on the country's political leaders to turn Bangladesh's political culture away from a course of violence and vengeance.

NDI and The Carter Center are independent, nongovernmental organizations that have conducted more than 100 impartial pre-election, election-day and post-election observation delegations around the globe. The delegation was invited by the government of Bangladesh and by political and civic leaders. The delegation conducted its activities according to international standards for nonpartisan international election observation and Bangladeshi law. NDI and The Carter Center are planning to organize an international observer delegation to the elections and will continuously monitor the electoral process through the post-election period.

The full text of the delegation's statement is available on the NDI web site at www.ndi.org and The Carter Center site at www.cartercenter.org/REPORTS/bangelectionaug2001.pdf 

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