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US Envoy Says Next Bangladeshi Government Faces Three-Pronged Challenge

With less than a week to go before elections in Bangladesh, the U.S. ambassador to that country is warning that whoever wins will have to simultaneously focus on democracy, development and fighting terrorism. Otherwise, he says, Bangladesh will face even greater challenges than it does at present.

Voters in Bangladesh go to the polls on December 29. The election is intended to restore democracy to the South Asian nation of 150 million people, who are predominately Muslim. The long-delayed election comes after a nearly two-year period of emergency rule by an army-backed caretaker government.

The U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh, James Moriarty, in a VOA interview, called for the election winner to focus on three priorities - restoring full democracy, development and denying opportunities for terrorism to flourish.

"Any successful government in Bangladesh has to address all three," he said. "If the democracy does not function well, you will see ungoverned space, you will see much slower economic development than you would otherwise. If development doesn't occur you will have a lot more poor people, you will have a lot more opportunities for bad guys to do bad things."

The election comes after the interim government agreed to free from jail the heads of the two top political parties. As part of a widespread sweep to rid the country of corruption the leaders of the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party were arrested. They rotated in and out of power during a tumultuous 15-year period with the party in opposition accused of violence and intimidation against the other.

Ambassador Moriarty has appeared recently twice with Sheik Hasina of the Awami League. But he says he is not playing favorites and hopes to meet again with BNP leader Khaleda Zia before election day.

"We have no preferred candidate," he said. "I've reached out to both of the former prime ministers. I've assured them that the United States has important interests in Bangladesh, wants to see a return to democracy and will work well with whatever government comes to power."

The ambassador says he is convinced Bangladesh's military wants to get out of politics and has kept to its own timetable for the transition back to an elected civilian government.