Bangladesh Prepares New Voter List

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24 July 2008

Bangladesh has compiled a new voters list that is expected to pave theway for fair elections scheduled to be held later this year. As AnjanaPasricha reports from New Delhi, past elections in the country havebeen marred by allegations that ruling parties added millions of fakenames to electoral rolls.           

The Election Commission inDhaka says officials assisted by army personnel, conducted door-to-doorchecks for nearly a year to record the identities, photographs and fingerprints of more than 80 million voters in the country.

Officials say nearly 13 million fake, fictitious, duplicate or underage voters in the earlier list have been eliminated.

Election Commission officials say the new list is the most accurate in Bangladesh's history.

Ataur Rahman, Professor of Political Science, at Dhaka University, agrees.

"Thisone is more or less flawless so far," he said. "People in generalbelieve that this is going to be a more credible voter list than everbefore."

The detailed exercise of compiling a new list beganafter the army-backed government pledged to reform corrupt institutionsbefore holding elections, and virtually discarded the old rolls.

Thereare hopes the new voters list will enable more credible polls. Pastelections in the country have been marred by allegations that resultswere manipulated by stuffing fake names in electoral rolls.  

Theinterim government plans to hold elections in December. It came topower last year after elections were scrapped following violentprotests by political activists who believed the polls would be rigged.  

Thenew list is being seen as a big step forward in cleaning-up theelection process. But analysts say the army-backed government facesmany more challenges to return the country to democracy.   

Rahman says the army-backed government will have to engage political parties more closely as they prepare for polls.   

"Electionis more than a voter list," he said. "The participation of thepolitical parties, and also to show that the Election Commission isneutral all along, will be also more important. The trust of thepolitical parties must be earned by the caretaker government as well asthe Election Commission before a meaningful election can take place."

Thebiggest hurdle to a credible election so far is the refusal by somemajor parties to take part in the polls until their jailed leaders arereleased. They have been arrested on charges of corruption.