Muhith was worried over big win | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 26, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 26, 2011

Muhith was worried over big win

Finance Minister AMA Muhith was dismayed by the overwhelming victory of Awami League-led grand alliance in the December 2008 parliamentary election, saying that such huge wins “had not augured well for Bangladesh in the past”.
Muhith made the comment to an official of US embassy in Dhaka immediately after the ninth parliamentary polls held on December 29, according a US diplomatic cable recently published by the WikiLeaks.
In the polls, the AL alone secured 230 of the 299 seats contested, and the tally rose to 262 including those won by its coalition partners. BNP, which got a landslide victory in the 2001 election, bagged only 29.
"AMA Muhith, a winning Awami League candidate who is seen as a potential finance minister, told PolOff [political officer] he was dismayed the margin of victory was so huge," the then US ambassador James F Moriarty wrote on December 30, 2008.
"He said landslide victories had not augured well for Bangladesh in the past and tended to marginalize losing parties, which were needed to maintain a viable opposition."
The cable sent by Moriarty to Washington also said: "Questions remain, however, about how magnanimous the party [AL] will be. In 1975, former Awami League leader and Sheikh Hasina's father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, tried to create a one-party state."
It said in 1996, when the AL was voted to power with Hasina at the helm, she urged other parties to join her government as partners.
The cable reads the AL's landslide victory in the 2008 elections represented a stunning rejection of its rival, BNP, which faced widespread accusations of corruption and misrule during its 2001-2006 tenure.
"Should Awami League President Sheikh Hasina make good on her promise to clean up Bangladesh's historically graft- and violence-plagued politics, the election could prove a watershed toward better governance of this critically important, predominantly Muslim nation of 150 million people," said the cable in its summary.
Under the subhead "a vote against the BNP," the dispatch attributing to local media reports said BNP won just 29 seats, a mind-boggling drop from the 195 seats it captured alone in the 2001 election.
Voters rejected nearly all national BNP leaders who ran for parliament. Only three nationally prominent BNP figures won: Chairperson Khaleda Zia, who won three seats; Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, who won one seat and lost another; and Vice Chairman MK Anwar, it added.
"Voters rejected many party figures accused of corrupt activities during the BNP's last tenure in office, including several whom the outgoing Caretaker Government jailed on graft accusations," said the cable.
The dispatch said during pre-election reporting trips around the country, embassy officials heard several sources predict that the widely reported allegations of corruption by Khaleda Zia's youngest son in a deal involving Siemens would remind voters of the endemic graft for which her administration became known.
It said many Bangladeshis reviled her eldest son, Tarique Rahman, who reputedly wielded great power under his mother's rule to win favours for himself and enrich his cronies. The Caretaker Government jailed both sons on corruption charges, but courts later freed them for medical treatment overseas, the cable continued.
"BNP Joint Secretary General Nazrul Islam Khan told PolOff in a brief election post-mortem that complaints of corruption during the 2001-2006 administration contributed heavily to the defeat."
The diplomatic cable said the electorate also might have tired of the BNP's constant trashing of the military-backed caretaker government, which came to power in January 2007 to end months of political violence, for imposing a state of emergency.
"In recent weeks, public polling showed an overwhelming majority of Bangladeshis believed the Caretaker Government had succeeded in its main task, namely ensuring the 12/29 Parliamentary elections would be free, fair and credible.
"Bangladeshis also applauded Caretaker Government actions to clean up corruption although results of those efforts were mixed."
AL leaders have vowed to continue efforts to fight corruption, even though the caretaker government had detained Sheikh Hasina on graft charges, the cable said under the head line "Awami League win: Great Opportunity, Great risk."
"Some of the party's winning candidates have highly tainted reputations as well," Moriarty wrote.
He also added that the party has promised to give BNP a meaningful role in government in what would be a huge break from Bangladesh's past winner-take-all politics.
"While the Awami League may nonetheless extend an olive branch to the BNP, it is unlikely to do so to Bangladesh's leading Islamist party, Jamaat-e-Islami, which won just two seats compared with the 17 captured in 2001. The two top leaders of Jamaat, which is the main BNP ally, lost their races.
"Nazrul, the BNP joint secretary general, acknowledged the branding of Jamaat leaders as "war criminals" for siding with Pakistan in Bangladesh's war for independence was effective, particularly among young voters," the cable said.
Moriarty wrote it was not clear how Jamaat, which has been committed to democracy in promoting its Islamist philosophy, would respond to its election debacle.
In the conclusion, he, however, said he would maintain close contact with Jamaat to encourage it to continue to pursue its Islamist agenda through non-violent, democratic means despite its thumping at the polls.
"If nothing else, the parliamentary vote was a loud cry from Bangladeshis that they were tired of their country's dysfunctional politics as usual."

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