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Bangladesh Now Says Elections Not Possible Until Late 2008


Hopes for early restoration of democracy in Bangladesh have received a setback, after officials said elections could not be organized until the end of 2008. As Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, Bangladesh has been ruled by an army-backed interim administration since January, when general elections were postponed indefinitely.

Bangladesh's chief election commissioner, A.T.M. Shamsul Huda, has ruled out new parliamentary elections for the next 18 months, saying a new list of voters will take a long time to prepare. He says the United Nations is helping in the mammoth project, which involves supplying voters with photo identity cards.

The announcement of another delay in the elections was not entirely unexpected. Since taking office in January, the interim government has said it would hold new elections only after carrying out sweeping reforms to ensure that the voting is free and credible.

Still, Ataus Samad, an independent political analyst in Dhaka, says many in the country had hoped the new list could be completed much faster. He says the huge delay has raised suspicions that the interim government is not serious about the mandate it was given in January - to hold general elections and restore democracy as soon as possible.

"We thought that they would take six months, or at the most, nine months," he said. "One and a half years to prepare a voters list is very, very unrealistic. I think the caretaker government is forgetting its true assignment."

The original voters list became a bone of contention between the country's two main political parties last year. The former opposition party alleged that the former ruling party had packed the list with millions of fake names.

Differences between the main political parties over how the elections should be organized led to months of violence. Parliamentary elections were originally scheduled for January, but instead, an emergency was declared, and all political activity suspended.

Among other things, the military-backed interim government that took over to reorganize the elections agreed to draw up a new voters list.

The interim government's measures to clean up politics include a widely welcomed crackdown on corruption. The mayor of Bangladesh's fourth largest city, Sylhet, is the latest among scores of top politicians taken into custody on corruption charges. He was arrested Friday.

But with no signs of an early election, some fear the country risks sliding back to the type of military-led dictatorship that ruled the country in the 1980's.

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