Monday, September 24, 2007

Bangladesh govt may outstay welcome - Commonwealth

Bangladesh govt may outstay welcome - Commonwealth
By Simon Denyer
Source: Reuters India
September 24, 2007

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Bangladesh's caretaker government is playing with fire by delaying elections until the end of next year and could lose popular support, the Commonwealth's most senior official said on Monday.

"They should not take the electorate for granted. Don't believe that just because they want you now they will want you tomorrow," Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon told Reuters on a visit to the Indian capital, New Delhi.

"If you lose the confidence of the people, you are in big trouble," the New Zealander who heads the 53-member group of mostly ex-British Empire nations said in an interview.

Bangladesh has been under a state of emergency since January when an army-backed interim administration took power after months of political violence, cancelled elections and banned all political activity.

Normally an interim administration is supposed to be in place for just three months to supervise elections.

This government now says it will not hold elections until late next year, after preparing a new voters' list with photographs and completing a campaign against corruption and abuse of power.

McKinnon said the government, which enjoyed widespread support when it took power, needed to speed up preparations for elections and keep people properly informed of what it was doing.

"It is pushing a constitutional issue to an absolute extreme to believe that a caretaker government, elected on the basis of about three months, should stay there for a couple of years."

"For Bangladesh to go for a couple of years without a parliament is asking a lot," he said, adding this could put the country in "quite a difficult situation".

Earlier this month Bangladesh's government lifted a ban on indoor political activities to let parties prepare for elections.

However, more than 170 political leaders, including two former prime ministers, Begum Khaldea Zia and Sheikh Hasina, have been detained in the authority's drive to stamp out corruption.

McKinnon said he was concerned about "6-800 political detainees" and another 100,000 people who have been put in detention.

"You have got problems there that really have to resolved today," he said.

Last week the United States urged Bangladesh to take further steps to restore democracy but said it supported the government's plans to hold credible elections. McKinnon was in India for a meeting of parliamentarians from around the Commonwealth, which represents 1.8 billion people but has no formal decision-making powers.

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