Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Observers term polls free, fair

The Daily Star (Bangladesh) - 31 December 2008

The International Republican Institute (IRI), a Washington-based election monitoring body, yesterday said the results of the ninth parliamentary elections held on Monday are an accurate reflection of the will of Bangladeshi voters.

"The election was free and fair. Political parties, candidates and citizens should accept the results and work together for a peaceful transition of power," IRI team leader Constance Berry Newman said at a news briefing at Radisson Hotel.

Observation missions from Japan and the EU Parliament also termed the polls free and fair.

The delegation was particularly impressed with the dedication of the millions of Bangladeshi voters who stood patiently in lines to exercise their civic rights and participate in the political process, Newman, a former assistant secretary of state, said in a written statement.

Its delegates were also impressed by the efforts to ensure procedural transparency of the elections, she said.

On the basis of the IRI team's preliminary observation, she said the election process appeared organised and calm and that officials were generally knowledgeable about the laws.

The final observation report of the IRI team will be available in a couple of months.

Monitoring 250 polling stations in six divisions across the country, the 65 members of the organisation found no major irregularity.

Responding to a query, Newman said: "Weak opposition does not depend on the number of seats, rather it depends on how they participate."

More than 500 international election observers, about two lakh domestic observers and thousands of agents of political parties witnessed the voting and tabulation processes, she said.

Although the campaign was abbreviated, political parties and independent candidates had an equal and adequate opportunity to make their case before the public, the IRI observed.

It thanked the caretaker government, the Election Commission, the army and the UNDP for their efforts to register more than 80 million voters and ensure their inclusion in the new list.

The IRI also commended the media for giving the citizens timely and valuable information.

The poll monitoring body saw some rooms for further improvement in the electoral processes, including easy identification of voter number. "Observers even noted campaigning taking place around the polling stations, which is in direct violation of the law," Newman said.

IRI Executive Director Judy Van Rest was also present at the briefing.

The observation mission from Japan said the ninth parliamentary elections were conducted in a free, fair and peaceful manner.

Asked about the BNP's allegation of irregularities in 72 constituencies, head of the mission Goji Sakamoto told reporters at the Jatiya Press Club that they visited eight polling stations in Dhaka and found nothing as alleged by the losing party.

Sakamoto expressed hope that political parties would respect the verdict of the people and work together to develop the country politically and economically.

Japanese Ambassador to Bangladesh Masayuki Inoue and other members of the observation team were present at the briefing.

At a meeting with Foreign Adviser Iftekhar Ahmed Chowdhury at his office, Nirj Deva and Charles Tannock of the EU Parliament also thanked the caretaker government for holding a free and impartial election.

The election having been held successfully, now Bangladesh will be counted as one of the world's largest democratic countries, Iftekhar told reporters after the meeting.