Thu, Jan 01, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Hasina urges rival to concede defeat

POWER SHARING Bangladesh’s former prime minister said she was willing to offer Cabinet posts to opposition lawmakers if they accept the outcome of the elections

AFP , DHAKA

Former prime minister and Awami League party President Sheikh Hasina waves to supporters as she arrives for a press conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Former Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed yesterday hailed her landslide election victory as a vote against “misrule” and urged her bitter rival, who has alleged rampant vote-rigging, to accept the result.

Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League won 231 out of a possible 300 seats in Monday’s ballot, while the Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Khaleda Zia — another former prime minister — managed only 27 seats.

“I think she [Zia] should accept the people’s verdict because this election is free, fair and transparent,” Hasina said in her first public comments since winning what was Bangladesh’s first national poll in seven years.

Zia has already labeled the election fraudulent and the result “unacceptable,” raising fears of a return to the unrest that paralyzed political life in Bangladesh under successive Hasina and Zia-led governments since 1991.

The deep personal animosity between the two women has earned them the nickname of the “battling begums.”

Sheikh Hasina insisted that she wanted to cooperate with her rival and said she would be willing to offer Cabinet posts to opposition lawmakers as long as they accepted the election outcome.

“I feel in the parliamentary system we can work together. I am ready to work with everyone,” she said.

Despite Zia’s allegations of vote-rigging, the verdicts from foreign election observers were positive.

“The election has been credible and met many of the benchmarks for democratic elections to which Bangladesh has committed itself,” a group of Commonwealth monitors said in a statement.

The group said the counting had been “transparent” and urged all sides to accept the result and work together “in a spirit of mutual respect.”

A statement issued by EU monitors yesterday also concluded that the elections were transparent and credible, and reflected “the will of the people of Bangladesh.

The EU’s chief observer, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff, said the elections, which ended the two-year rule of an army-backed caretaker regime, marked an important step in the restoration of democratic governance in Bangladesh.

“Minor technical difficulties aside, professionalism, transparency and credibility were the hallmarks of this election,” Lambsdorff said.

The official turnout was put at a record 85 percent — a figure which reached 90 percent in rural areas.

“It’s a victory of good governance over misrule. A victory of peace over terrorism,” Sheikh Hasina said, acknowledging that such a huge mandate carried a heavy leadership responsibility.

“I seek cooperation from all in performing this huge duty,” she said.

A UN-funded digital electoral roll eliminated 12.7 million fake names and appeared to have put a lid on the kind of fraud that tainted previous polls, observers said.

Both Sheikh Hasina and Zia had been jailed by the caretaker government for corruption, but were released in order to be able to contest the vote.

“All Bangladeshis can take great pride in the success of these elections,” the US State Department said in a statement.

“The high voter turnout underscores the people’s desire to see democracy restored as well to have a voice in their future,” it said.

Around 50,000 troops had been on alert nationwide for the voting, while 600,000 police officers were deployed to crack down on fraud or prevent disruption at the 35,000 polling booths.

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