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Bangladesh's New Interim Government Promises Sweeping Reforms


Bangladesh's new interim government has unveiled an ambitious agenda of reforms, and promised credible general elections as early as possible. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the new administration has wide popular support in a country where months of political turmoil led to the postponement of the elections.

For residents of the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka, the past two weeks have brought a welcome respite from months of violent street protests and transportation blockades.

The protests were called by one of the country's two major political alliances, which feared the general elections originally scheduled for January 22 would be rigged.

The elections were subsequently postponed, an emergency was declared, and a new interim government was sworn in to steer the country towards free and fair elections.

The administration's new leader, Fakhruddin Ahmed, has promised to clean up the election process, which critics alleged was riddled with such irregularities as a voter list with millions of fake names.

Ahmed has not provided a new date, but promised "fair and meaningful" elections as soon as possible.

The head of Dhaka's Center for Policy Dialogue, Debapriya Bhattacharya, says the announcement by Ahmed, who is known as Chief Advisor, has been widely welcomed in a country fed up with bickering political parties.

"The agenda which the Chief Advisor has laid out bears quite a lot of resonance of the overall citizens' demands which had been voiced during the last years and more," said Bhattacharya. "He has concentrated mainly on three areas. One is eradication of corruption, number two holding of a free and fair election, and the third, political reforms." The major issue now is the agenda…People are looking forward to that."

Ahmed says that agenda will include a new election commission, a fresh voter list, voter identity cards and transparent ballot boxes. A beginning has been made: the head of the old Election Commission has already stepped down.

Ahmed has also revitalized an anti-corruption body and vowed to rid elections of corruption.

Businesses, reeling under losses from the frequent shutdowns and strikes of recent months, have welcomed the restoration of calm in the country.

The head of Dhaka's Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Hossain Khalid, says the strikes had crippled businesses, transport networks and ports, and set back economic growth.

"At this moment we are expecting to reach 6.8 percent [economic growth], but honestly without the political problems that we have, we should have been in double digits," said Khalid.

Political analysts say Ahmed's agenda is long overdue in a country where many feared that confrontation between the two main political alliances could derail democracy. But they say it will not be easy to achieve the sweeping changes Ahmed is promising, or reconcile the country's divided parties, and elections are still probably several months away.

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