IRI Preliminary Statement on Bangladesh’s Parliamentary Elections

Bangla Version

Dhaka, Bangladesh – IRI found Bangladesh’s December 29, 2008, parliamentary elections a major step forward in demonstrating the country’s commitment to strengthening democracy.  The process appears to have yielded a result that accurately reflects the will of Bangladeshi voters.

What is crucial in the aftermath of this election is that Bangladesh’s leaders recognize that Election Day is only one part of a democratic political process; political parties, candidates and citizens should accept the results and work together for a peaceful transition of power.  IRI will continue to follow events in this election through the final counting and adjudication processes to the transfer of power.

IRI’s 65-member delegation of short and long-term election observers monitored more than 250 polling stations in all six administrative divisions of the country.  Prior to Election Day, observers were briefed by representatives of the Bangladesh Election Commission (BEC), major political parties and domestic monitoring groups.  IRI also conducted two pre-election assessments in Bangladesh from July 31-August 8, 2008, and October 13-21, 2008.  The teams evaluated the state of preparations for the parliamentary elections.

The delegation was particularly impressed with the dedication of the millions of Bangladeshi voters who stood patiently in line to exercise their civic rights and to participate in the political process.  At the polling stations observed by IRI’s teams, the process appeared organized and calm, and election officials were generally knowledgeable about election law.  Though observers noted many procedural irregularities they did not believe them of the scope and severity that would call into question the legitimacy of the process or outcome.

The successes of Election Day were due in large part to the establishment of the new voter list.  The Caretaker Government, the BEC, the Army and the United Nations Development Program are to be commended for their efforts to register more than 80 million eligible voters and ensure their inclusion in the new list.

IRI’s delegates were also impressed by efforts to ensure procedural transparency.  In addition to the more than 500 international election observers credentialed by the BEC, thousands of domestic observers and political party agents witnessed the voting and vote tabulation processes.

Though the campaign was abbreviated, political parties and independent candidates had an equal and adequate opportunity to make their case before the Bangladeshi public. In addition, Bangladeshi media appears to have covered the campaign extensively giving Bangladeshi citizens timely information about election-related activities.

IRI observers did see room for improvement.

Specifically, steps should be taken to improve the process by which voters are identified at the polling station.  This would help alleviate crowding and long lines.  It would also remove the opportunity for political party activists to play an inappropriate role at voting stations on Election Day.

Delegates witnessed numerous instances in which political party agents assisted voters and/or displayed party materials in the polling station.  In some instances, observers even noted campaigning taking place around the polling station, which is in direct violation of the law.

Inconsistencies in the vote consolidation process also led IRI observers to conclude there is a need for more thorough and consistent training of election workers.

Nonetheless, Bangladeshi leaders and citizens should be congratulated for an election that restores the electoral foundation of Bangladesh’s democracy.

IRI’s delegation was led by Constance Berry Newman, IRI board member and former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs.  Other members of the delegation, which included representatives from Canada, China, Georgia, Greece, Hungary and Poland were: Anya Borshchevskaya, a researcher at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies; Li Fan, President of the World and China Institute; Michel Huneault, Senior Development Officer and Analyst for the Canadian International Development Agency; Nana Kashakashvili, Advisor to the Georgian Deputy Minister of Labor Health and Social Affairs; Irakli (Tony) Kavtaradze, International Secretary of the United National Movement and a member of the Georgian Parliament; Renata Kuras, an elections expert from Poland; Rati Maisuradze, Member of Parliament, Republic of Georgia; Constantine Makris, International Development Cooperation Agency Hellenic Aid at the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Heather Orrange, an international human rights and elections expert from Canada; Tamara Otiashvili, a consultant from Georgia with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights; Scott Palmer, former Chief of Staff to the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Dennis Hastert; Michael Rubin, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; Deb Sofield, President, Executive Speech and Presentations Coaching Co; Jeno Istvan Szep, of Hungary, Project Manager for IDOM 2000 Consulting Co.; Joshua White, a doctoral candidate at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies; and Ernest Wickersham, an independent elections expert from the United States.

IRI staff also served as observers and assisted in the mission.  IRI staff was led by Judy Van Rest, Executive Vice President; Cynthia Bunton, Regional Director for Asia programs; and Jeffrey Vanness, Resident Country Director for Bangladesh.

IRI began working in Bangladesh in November 2003 with initial goals focused on strengthening domestic election monitoring; expanding the participation, leadership development and influence of women and youth in politics and civil society; and developing the advocacy skills of individuals who work to increase political party responsiveness to the needs of the Bangladeshi people.  IRI also supports the National Election Observer Council (JANIPOP), a domestic election observation organization that trains and fields observers to monitor every stage of the election process.

IRI has monitored more than 130 elections since 1983. 

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