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Elections in Bangladesh: A Critical Moment for the Country's Future

Richard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
Remarks at the Heritage Foundation
Washington, DC
December 14, 2006

MS. CURTIS: Thank you all for joining us today at Heritage for a very important and timely discussion on Bangladesh.

Home to the third largest Muslim population in the world, Bangladesh has made significant strides in social and economic development in recent years. Bangladeshi citizen Muhammad Yunus recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for his outstanding work in establishing the Grameen Microcredit banking system. This innovative program to assist the poor has also empowered Bangladeshi women and helped foster values of talents and moderation. Bangladesh can also boast holding three successful elections in the last 16 years.

These positive trends could be reversed, however, if the threat from violent extremists is not taken seriously and if Bangladeshi authorities fail to protect victims of intolerance, such as Bangladeshi journalist, Salah Uddin Shoab Choudhury and others. The Bangladeshi people have by and large rejected such intolerance and extremism, but there is concern that the current pre-election uncertainty and political violence that has left over 40 dead in recent weeks could foster an environment that widens the political space for Islamic radicals.

The international community therefore views the January 23 rd election as a crucial test of the future direction of the country.

We are delighted to have with us today Assistant Secretary Richard Boucher to provide his insights into the current situation in Bangladesh. He was sworn in as Assistant Secretary on February 21, 2006 after the Bureau of South Asian Affairs was expanded to include the nations of Central Asia. Over the course of his career Ambassador Boucher served as the Department of State Spokesman and Deputy Spokesman under six secretaries of state. In 2005 he became the longest serving Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs in the Department of State's history.

From October 1993 to June 1996 he served as US Ambassador to Cyprus, and from 1996 to 1999 he headed the US Consulate General in Hong Kong. He led US efforts as the senior official for Asia Pacific economic cooperation from July 1999 to April 2000. Ambassador Boucher obtained his Bachelor's degree in 1973 from Tufts University, and he did graduate work in economics at George Washington University. He speaks French and Chinese.

So, without further delay, let us warmly welcome the Honorable Richard Boucher.

[Applause].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: Thank you very much.

I want to thank Heritage for having me over, and thank Lisa especially for taking the initiative in having this what I agree is a very important and timely program. We're all I think spending a lot of time on Bangladesh these days and making sure that all our various comments and contributions can be helpful to the election process.

As I look around the audience I see a lot of friends. Mr. Ambassador, it's good to see you here. I see a lot of others who I know from this area who, like Lisa, are much more knowledgeable than I am on the subject that I'm about to talk about. So I'll try to keep my remarks short and listen as much as I can to your questions and make sure I respond as best I can.

But I thought I'd try to give you a sense of US government policy at this critical juncture with Bangladesh, and divided my talk into sort of three simple areas. One is why do we care? The second is, what do we care about? The third is, what are we doing about it? If I can stick to that I'll give you a sense of what we're doing and get your sense perhaps of how it works and whether it can work.

The first question of why do we care, I think it's something we need to remind ourselves of. Perhaps with all the things going on in the region, whether it's nuclear developments or Afghanistan or terrorism or just the basic problems of achieving stability, it's easy to forget about a place like Bangladesh which most often is just considered to be a stable democracy with a lot of problems with poverty and corruption. But I think we're at a very important moment in Bangladesh.

I sometimes find it surprising when I travel around the region that people who are interested in democracy and interested in the development of stable democracies often talk about the Bangladesh system including the current period, the caretaker system, as being an excellent model, as being something that can stand out for other places who are interested in developing a stable democracy in a region in which I think all the nations aspire to having stable democracies, but not all have achieved it yet, shall we say.

Then you go to Bangladesh itself, and you hear about all the difficulties of the current period and the problems with the caretaker and the problems with deciding this and that and the other and how it works and whether the election can come about in a free and fair manner.

One might say that the issue is having this democracy live up to its promise, having the system work the way it should. That requires an investment of time, energy and understanding from all the people on the inside as well as the outside.

If it does live up to its promise, if it does work the way it should, it certainly is a model for others. The establishment, the achievement of ongoing democracy, which Bangladesh has done, and the achievement of sort of stable, moderate democracy in a Muslim country, which by and large Bangladesh has done, is really something that can stand in good stead in the region both as an element of stability, but also as a model to others. That, I think, is one of our primary interest is in seeing Bangladesh achieve that and demonstrate to others that this can work and it can work well.

The second obviously is the question of keeping terror and terrorists out of Bangladesh , not letting them undermine the society, which has always been a moderate society and an open one. And trying to keep the health of that society sustained for the people there and to keep them from being prey to the terrorists as they were in the bombings of a bit more than a year ago now, and to try to keep that Bangladesh from becoming a place of transit or otherwise used by terrorists who prey on others in the region.

The third big interest we have, just as in the people of Bangladesh and the growth of Bangladesh. I am frankly struck by the impressions that perhaps all of us have grown up with in Bangladesh, that it was a basket case, always known as a basket case, always known as a place that suffered terribly from typhoons and flooding. That was pretty much all we ever heard. We heard in the disaster segment of our news shows that something terrible had happened and hundreds of people had died in Bangladesh.

When you actually sort of look at the reality of Bangladesh these days, there's been remarkable economic growth, a bit difficult sometimes this year.

It always strikes me that foreign assistance, which one always thinks of as such an enormous element in Bangladesh , has actually been reduced, I think it's less than five percent of the economy right now. The source of growth, the source of poverty alleviation as we've seen with Grameen Bank is often the domestic opportunity, domestic entrepreneurship, domestic initiative, domestic ideas. That is to the credit of the people of Bangladesh and it forebodes well for their future.

So what exactly do we care about in this election? We care about -- we have a little litany, that it's free, fair, non-violent and credible. To be a successful system the way it was designed the parties need to participate in the election, the parties need to have contention on the issues and not in the streets. But above all it boils down to giving the voters a choice. Giving the voters a fair choice so they know the votes will be counted and that their choices will be respected in the outcomes. Giving voters a choice that's not affected by intimidation or fear or just violence in the streets that prevents them from participating in the election process or voting on voting day.

Giving them a fair choice, that means that they get to choose between different points of view. Again, it comes down to participation, having different points of view, participate in the process so that they can make their choice. And free, of course, just to let them make their decisions on their own.

So that's what it boils down to, choice for the voters. Last time I went to Bangladesh I pointed out to the people I talked to there that I was, I think I was there the day after the US mid-term election, that I'd been able to make my voter choice by absentee ballot the day before I left on that trip, and that I was really thinking about this whole process, sort of voter to voter. And as we had thought – as we had just cast our ballots in the United States, that's what we were looking for the people of Bangladesh; that they would once again get to make their choices, voter to voter.

So what are we doing about all these things? I think the first is that we have become involved directly in the support for the election process. There's about I think two million dollars of our aid programs fund directly into assistance with the process of preparing elections, assistance to election commissions and others involved in the apparatus of making the election happen -- not in any way assistance to any political party, any point of view, any candidates, but just to try to support the election process itself.

Second of all, we and others are going to be there with observers. I just saw a group from the National Democratic Institute the other day. They were telling me about their plans to go out as observers, they already have some people on the ground. The International Republican Institute is doing the same thing.

One can argue about whether this is the most important election in Bangladesh's history, but it looks like it's going to be the most carefully monitored and watched, and observed by people inside the country as well as delegations from outside. I know the Europeans, friends in the neighborhood, plenty of people who I talked to are already talking about organizing and deploying their various observer missions, which obviously can help monitor and election, can perhaps help keep it more fair, more free, more open, more honest. But in the end it's the Bangladeshis themselves who are going to run this election. We've tried to support their ability to do that in an open manner.

The second is we have sort of spoken out on the election process. We've tried to be somewhat vocal in our comments during this period and we've tried to be very active in terms of visiting our diplomatic activity in Bangladesh.

As you know, our Ambassador has been active on the political scene, not again in support of any particular party or in support of any particular point of view, but just trying to keep in touch with all the players, be it the Chief Advisor to President Ahmed, or be it leaders of the political parties and try to either assist them or at least encourage them to work out many of these differences over the election process. To work those out non-violently between the parties. That's been the chief effort that she's made. It's an effort that continues day by day as different issues crop up.

I've also visited myself, as I said, in November. My Deputy, John Gastright, was out there a couple of weeks ago, I guess it was, in Bangladesh . We've tried to maintain a consistent presence and point of view, again with the voter in mind, with the ultimate decision and the choice of the voter being the goal.

On the more general question of what are we doing in Bangladesh, we have about 76 million dollars of assistance every year. It's a very big program. As I said, it's not the major driver of the economy, but we think it's an important help. A lot of it goes into health care, a lot of it goes into education, some of it goes into democracy, and other issues like that. But it's really an attempt to help deliver perhaps some services to the Bangladeshi people and make sure that they get the benefits of their democracy, that they get the benefits of the ties that they have withy foreign people, foreign governments, including the United States. I'd also note that the United States is a market for Bangladeshi goods. It also provides perhaps our most important contribution to the Bangladeshi economy.

So this is an interesting period, a difficult period, one that has certainly brought to my attention a whole lot of intricacies and complications of constitutions and election commissions and appointments and a process that I had never thought I would get into. But they are important, and we've tried to help people work them out.

I have to say we still remember that one way or the other Bangladesh will get through this election. The Bangladeshi people have had a chance to vote and decide before, and they'll have a chance to vote and decide again. We hope that choice is respected. But in the longer term we have a very solid relationship with Bangladesh, one that's based on these principles -- democracy, economic growth, and working together against terrorism. Those are things that we will continue to do in all their aspects in terms of our relationships with a new government and our relationships with the people of Bangladesh for a long, long time to come.

That's where I'd like to stop for the day. I tried to give you a basic perspective on what the United States is thinking. Now I'd just like to hear from you on what we should be paying attention to and try to respond as best I can.

I think there's a microphone somewhere.

QUESTION: As you are aware, there are [inaudible] that takes place in Bangladesh at this moment. The military was from the street [inaudible]. One of the [inaudible], one of the [inaudible] was [inaudible]. And also there were reports of terrorists. [Inaudible]. Suppose that it's a problem. What message are you giving to the Bangladesh [inaudible]? Even quite [inaudible]. This is a delicate time.

My second part of the question is [inaudible] that the process and the election itself is not fair, will you consider not recognizing the results [inaudible]? Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: Let me start out with what message we're trying to give. The question -- let me repeat it for the microphone. Two questions. One is noting some of the delicate issues, important issues that have arisen, and what message is the United States giving in terms of those issues at this moment. Second of all, if it turns out that the election process is not fair, would we consider not recognizing the government that comes out of that.

Let me try and answer the first question. I think our first message has always been try to work these things out. And as you note, there was a lot of concern about what role the military might play, and then the military were called out to sort of maintain order, which at least in principle is a role that everybody accepts. And now there are reports that that's finished and they're going back. These things have a way of evolving and changing, and week to week I think we try to encourage the parties to work out different issues in as open a manner as possible. We don't necessarily tell people what to do, but we try to reflect the different points of view and look for ways that they might be solved. That applies to some of the election issues as well. The voter list has been an important issue to the voters and to the political parties, making sure it's as complete as possible. There have been several revisions of it, and I think there's one more underway now. I'm not quite sure when that process is going to be completed, but obviously the sooner the better for everybody. So we've tried to encourage people to move these along, to resolve them, to point to the issues that need to be resolved, and encourage either the people in authority to deal with them or the two parties to get together. That's been, frankly, less success than other things.

In the case that if it turns out that it's all wrong and would we recognize whoever comes out of it, that's what we call a hypothetical question. I, for many years as spokesman, I refused to answer hypothetical questions. It's also not the way we think about things.

Obviously we'll deal with what happens when it happens, and I think we'll deal honestly with it. As I said, all these observers, all these monitors, there's going to be a lot or discussion of what really happens in the election all the way through including election day. We'll have a lot of good solid reports, solid information about how it's operated. We'll see how different institutions deal with violations, if there are any. We'll see how they deal with allegations, if there are any.

But as far as what about the outcome? Well, we're doing our best to work to see that it's an outcome that fully reflects the choices that the Bangladeshi people want to make. We look forward to working with any government that they choose. We plan on that, we work towards that, we try to achieve that goal. If somehow we and others fail in that process then we'll have to deal with the complications that result.

But I think the first thing on our minds is not, oh my God, what do we do if it all goes bad? The first thing on our minds is how do we make this good and how can we make it better, how can we contribute to making it better and helping the people in Bangladesh and the institutions of the government, and the political parties, achieve an election that truly in the end reflects the choices that the Bangladeshi people want to make at this moment.

QUESTION: My name is Ashard Mahmud, and I am the Washington correspondent for Daily Prothom Alo.

It looks like it would be hard to draw you into this kind of hypothetical questions, but let me be a little bit more specific. It looks like -- I'm sure you are following the events very closely, it looks like the biggest opposition party, what's going on now, may not and most likely will not participate under the present circumstances. And what specific measures have you taken to convince or persuade them to come to elections? And do you think the head of the Caretaker government, President Iajuddin Ahmed is neutral?

I was just talking to Ambassador Milam and --

QUESTION: [Inaudible]. [Laughter].

QUESTION: And he is not a Bangladeshi. He says that he follows the events and he doesn't think that he is neutral.

AMBASSADOR: Oh, wait a minute. I didn't say that. [Laughter].

QUESTION: So you are withdrawing that?

AMBASSADOR : (Inaudible) I never said it.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: I'm enjoying this. You guys keep going. [Laughter].

QUESTION: I would like to hear your comments. What do you think is going to happen now given the situation?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: My first comment is I always listen to what Ambassador Milam says, and -- [Laughter] -- I try to listen carefully enough that I have a clear understanding of what his views are. I look forward to hearing from him directly on what his views are on this matter.

I think you heard me use the word participate a couple of times, so I think you know my answer to what the opposition party may or may not do. Obviously they may have their decisions, they have their options. We think that for the sake of the voters it's important that there be candidates that represent the different major political point of views, that they have the opportunity to choose. You can't make a choice without different parties, different people to choose. And that everybody can and should push for what they believe is necessary for a free and fair election. Everybody can and should push for a chance to express their views and represent themselves and participate as much as they can, but I think it's also important in the end that the voters have the choice presented to them, that they get to make the choice. That's a pretty fundamental point of view that we've tried to express. We've said it directly to political leaders there, to the institutional leadership, the Caretaker chief advisers, the election commissions, sent it directly to Sheikh Hasina, and to others in her party. So there's no question I think of our view that we would like to see them participate and we would like to see them achieve the conditions that they believe are necessary to fairly participate and represent themselves in the election.

In recent days, I think thee have been some signs that they may be moving into electioneering mode, or may be about to start making that choice and decision. So we'll have to see what happens. But this is perhaps a moment to watch and see what they decide. We are watching very closely to see what they decide.

As far as judgments on the head of the caretaker government, the chief adviser, I think we all know the President's background. He doesn't come from a heavily political background. I have talked to him, others have talked to him, I think he's trying to manage the situation as best he can. Whether every action that he takes is completely neutral, I don't think it's something we sit on judgment in a day to day manner, but I would say he is certainly trying to do this in a way that meets the needs of his constitutional responsibility, as well as the needs of the current situation. And that he has a whole team of advisers, what we have emphasized is as that team works together they can produce a number of, they can guide the process in what we think is a very solid direction. So we've encouraged the whole team of advisers to work together to meet the constitutional responsibility that they have to put an election together that is fair to all parties.

QUESTION: Good morning. My name is Shamil Chaudury. I am from Maryland. I consider myself as an engaged activist.

My question to you is that in recent days as you pass your comment that head of the government, Dr. Iajuddin , has to play a neutral role according to the constitution.

For many years, for especially the last two years, we are seeing about everybody demanding on level playing field, to have a free, fair election -- transparent election.

My question is, after four of the advisers picked by Dr. Iajuddin resigned, explaining that their position that they could not trust the President's decision on many things. If the President's decision cannot be trusted by his own advisors how the nation or the political parties would trust that he could empower the political system or the reform movement.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: Again, the chief adviser, all the advisers have a very difficult task in a very political environment. I think they are trying to fulfill that constitutional responsibility as best they can. I think to some extent we have to support them in that manner. As I've said, we think the overall workings of this group of advisers together as a team produces, can produce a good outcome, and we've encouraged that, but I don't think I want to second guess them all the time from 12,000 miles away. It's important that they be given the chance to do their job, and they do it seriously with full responsibility under the constitution and we've encouraged them to take that sort of attitude together.

QUESTION: I'm John Cohen with Human Rights Watch. We released a report today on the Rapid Action Battalion, extrajudicial killings and things like that. Do you have concerns about RAB? Have you expressed those concerns to the Bangladesh government? I just want to get your overall thoughts on that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: I just saw the first press reports about the report you released, so I look forward to having a little more time to look at it.

There are a couple of things. One, we have tried to work very closely with the government of Bangladesh in the fight against terrorism. We now have a legal adviser at our embassy out there, we've provided a lot of training and assistance. We have tried to exchange information with the government of Bangladesh as well as work together with them on specific things that might come up, that might be threatening to the country there.

The cooperation with the United States in anti-terrorism matters is always done on a very clear basis of respect for human rights, respect for democratic principles, and that is a part of all our training courses, that's a part of all our interaction with the government in Bangladesh. And indeed, we found many areas where we can have a very productive relationship on that basis. I'd say overall, this cooperation has been very very good.

We do have concerns about the Rapid Action Battalion. We haven't gotten involved with them at this point. We have expressed our concerns that they, while they might be effective in the fight against terrorism, they have not been -- well, there are concerns about some of the killings that have occurred during their actions. There are concerns about the way they've acted in a lot of circumstances. We think they need not only to look at how they can be effective, but to how they can be effective in a way that represents -- that respects the standards of human rights that people would expect of them.

We all know they are, perhaps they are seen in Bangladesh by many as the most effective tool against terrorism. We don't want to in any way take away that tool, but we want to make sure that it acts in a manner that's fully consistent with constitutional principles and basic principles of human rights.

There were some changes made by the caretaker, by the chief adviser when he came in with regard to the Rapid Action Battalion. I don't know if it's, perhaps it's too early to say, but I would hope that portends a desire to see them meet higher standards of, a respect for human rights, even as they continue to be an effective tool against terrorism.

QUESTION: My name is Basrum Barri. I'm the expert here on energy. My question is you mentioned that the government is funding about $2 million to the election commission. Basic factor of the election is the electoral college. The voter list.

If the voter list is 20 to 30 percent in error, do you think the election will he fair, and test vote it?

And what U.S. Government can influence the election commission about correcting the [inaudible] of voter -

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: I was obviously checking my latest e-mail from my guys.

QUESTION: I would like to mention something [inaudible] in the paper. Today is our Martyr Day for Bangladesh. The 1971, the professional and educational[inaudible] who were martyred by the MT, the militia forces, and I requested that maybe in this gathering we can have a one minute silence for the observance for their honor.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: Well, I appreciate that and we'll get back to Lisa when we get there.

One of the things that we are doing in terms of our assistance to the election process is to help with the analysis and the surveys on the voter list. People have gone out to look and to do checks on the voter list, find out how good it is. As you know, it's gone through several iterations, and I think, as I said, I think there's another one underway right now. We certainly look to the final voter list to be as complete as possible, and have tried to assist with that process of analysis and survey to check whether it is as complete as possible.

Then there also need to be provisions and abilities for voters who are left off or misrepresented or there are otherwise errors on the voter list to be corrected, to be corrected in an efficient and timely manner. That's also been a matter of discussion out there. Indeed, I think I've seen from the political parties some recognition on their part that however good it was or bad it was when the final voter list was promulgated that they were going to gear up and organize themselves to correct as many errors as they could find and make sure that the voters did have this right to go to the polls and choose. So it's been a process of evolution, a process that we've tried to help with, and certainly we look for the best possible voter list, as well as for the opportunity for the voters and the parties working with the voters to make all the corrections necessary in a manner that lets them in the end go to the polls and make their choices.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, good morning. Thank you for coming here this morning, which is very timely. May name is (inaudible) Yussef. I am with Sawief Group.

I'd like to touch base a little bit on your what are we doing. I think a lot has been done. We have certainly reached out to Bangladeshi government and voters on the due process, so has EU and others. One of the areas, I think, we have not adequately addressed is the major parties themselves. I don't think we have addressed the issue the parties themselves have to be a little more democratic in running their organizations. If the principles of democracy is not embedded in the parties who are running for elections, I think it would be very difficult in the long run to really implement the principles of democracy that we are trying to establish there.

I think by and large the people, the democratic institutions, understand the rights and the values of democracy, but unless the leaders and the parties, major parties, they themselves embark on democratic principles of running the parties, it would be very difficult in the long run.

Thank you.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: Thank you. I appreciate the comment. I think I'll just take it on board. But it's a very interesting comment.

QUESTION: My name is (inaudible). I am from US [inaudible].

My question is that if the election we allow it to relate what happens, and now my question is simply about the person who is not in the center, is the President of the country, and he has now assumed the position of the caretaker government chief. So what happened is the most powerful man, I think, in political [inaudible] in the world now. And what he is doing, that is my question, [inaudible]. One is that he has, on his first chances to show his neutrality, must be appointed two election commission new, and who, both of whom are very controversial. Then comes his appointment of the [inaudible], advisers, who are picked up later on. All of them belong to the BNP ruling party or the Damat [Jamaat]?

Now in the [inaudible], what happened, simply we signed yesterday's paper that up until now reviving the case against [inaudible], case against Ershad. Why? Reporters saw the government is not appearing, not objecting, dropping the cases one after another when Ershad was supposed to join the four party alliance. The moment [inaudible] knows he is [inaudible] the opposition. It may be okay, we'll see. The cases have been revived. Here the question is, it happening under this President who was supposed to be neutral. There is an [inaudible] pressure on Ershad so that he doesn't go the other way. Then also about [inaudible]. He called two times. He called army in and army out. Then again, the army in, and this time again, army was on rest. And under this kind of situation how could we expect [inaudible]?

Here the question is, you are the ambassador, [inaudible] remarked the removal or resignation of the chief caretaker position from the President is not practical. So if it is not practical then how are we going to have a free and fair election when this President himself is unpredictable in his actions?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: I think, I'm going to have to give you the same answer I gave just a minute ago on the same question. You put more detail to it.

I think first is he would probably not call himself the most powerful person in the country. I think he's finding more about the limitations of his power than he is about any power that he thought he might have had. But as we've said, it's important for the system to work. It's important for people to give him a chance to make it work and for him to try to meet his constitutional responsibilities in the best possible way. Indeed, I think I have a lot of sympathy for the position that he and the other advisers occupy.

For the difficulty in any society of moving in a neutral manner to an election period which is full of politics and full of views, and where people attach great importance to every particular decision because it might affect their chances in the upcoming election.

So rather than second guess these things from 12,000 miles away let me just say that we have tried to encourage the caretaker, chief adviser and the other advisers to work together to meet their constitutional responsibilities. We have tried to encourage the political parties to raise issues with them, encourage them to listen, encourage the election commissioners to listen, and encourage everyone to try to work these out in a manner that meets the needs of all the parties rather than having to push everything up to a decision at the top and try to work as many of these issues out sort of along the way between the parties or between the parties and the institutions responsible for particular aspects of the process. We think that if there is that kind of cooperation we can reach a result that not everybody is going to like every decision and there are going to be debates during an election period -- that shouldn't surprise any of us. But we can reach a result that people find credible in the end and that the people of Bangladesh find credible in the end in terms of knowing that as they make their choices their voice will be heard, their ballots will be counted, and that the ultimate outcome will be one that reflects what they want.

One more, which is a repeat.

QUESTION: Just a follow up question. One of the four advisers who resigned day before yesterday, he said in a BBC interview that the package proposal that we crafted for this elections to be held neutrally, and all the advisers including the chief adviser signed, he's a signatory to that. And then we signed this thing and in the middle of the night everything was changed and we believe that there was somebody pulling the string from behind.

What is your comment? You must have seen that thing in the newspaper.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: I didn't see this middle of the night change, somebody's pulling it from behind. It's not me, I've got to tell you that first of all. [Laughter]. I'll look into it but I don't have any immediate comment on that.

Since that was such a poor answer why don't we do one more last question over here.

QUESTION: I want to thank Ms. Lisa Curtis for organizing this event. It's good to see you, Ambassador Boucher.

When America talks the rest of the world listens. When Ambassador Butenis talks in Bangladesh, people pay attention. Let's not debate that.

So last night when I heard someone called and advised me, early morning, that Ambassador Butenis was reported, and I use the word reported to have made a statement after her meeting with the President of Bangladesh, that the resignation of the chief adviser is impractical.

Now my understanding is that the United States has spent a substantial amount of time to understand and study the Bangladesh constitution, and I have been led to believe by my sources that the taking over of the role by the President as chief adviser, some people consider it controversial, but I think it's open for interpretation. But I think most people in Bangladesh and also in the United States , agree overwhelming that the President himself has taken a very controversial decision by becoming the (inaudible). Now while the rest of the world is talking about finding a way out to resolve this problem, I think the easiest way to deal with it is if he resigns as the chief adviser, that solves the problems.

When Ambassador Butenis makes a statement that it is impractical, in my mind it effectively seals the issue. Would you like to comment on that, sir?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: I do hope our Ambassadors listen too. We do study things carefully and try to provide an objective point of view, try to provide our best understanding of things and point to practicalities, point to principles, point to issues that need to be looked at. I don't have the exact text of her remarks, I'm sure you'd be able to find it on our web site if it's not there already. But I guess I have to ask the question hypothetically -- she can answer it but I can't. If he did resign, what's next? Then you just have a big debate over who should replace him and how they're acting.

The best thing is for this system, for this caretaker, for these advisers, to be able to fulfill their responsibility and for people to work with them in a way that allows them to do that.

I don't know for sure exactly how she said it, but the remark doesn't strike me as -- well it strikes me as fairly apt during the current situation. I'll just leave it at that.

All this has been in a state of evolution and there's been people in, people out. Disputes one week to the next often change. We hope that these advisers are able to fully fulfill their constitutional mandate, and that has to be the goal that all of us have in working with them, supporting them, talking about them, and we hope that's the goal of the institutions and the parties as well.

This really is going to be the last one.

QUESTION: Seshe Waser, Ambassador, good to see you again. I'm with the [inaudible], of course.

I guess my question has partly been asked already. A two-part question. One, with regards to the voter list, the NDI has found 12.2 million incorrect names on the voters list. First of all, do you feel it's possible to correct that in the week that was allotted for this revision?

Secondly, two days ago you've stressed repeatedly that the President must work with the advisers to ensure free and fair elections. Out of ten advisers, four of them resigned stating that they feel that a free and fair election is not possible despite their best efforts under this President. Could you comment on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY  BOUCHER: Again, I think I've talked as much as I can about the advisers and what's going on there. One would like all this to go very smoothly. It hasn't. But one can still hope, and one can still push, and one can still encourage the people who are in those positions to work together and to consult each other and to come out with things that reflect the diversity of views, but reflect the objective responsibility that they have under the constitution.

As far as how much the voter rolls can be corrected in a week, we all had hoped that this voter roll process had gone more smoothly way back months and months ago, but it has gone through several iterations. We would hope that as much correction can be done as possible. As I said, it's not only coming out with as good a list as possible at this stage, but then providing the opportunity for the political parties to organize their voters for the individuals who might be left off a list or misrepresented or misspelled or whatever, to have a chance to make the corrections so that ultimately one would like it to be really easy, but the ultimate test is are the voters represented and able to vote on election day, and that has to be a process. It doesn't end with one list, or it doesn't end this week. So we'll see.

Thank you all. I appreciate the questions and the ideas, and I look forward to talking to you further.

[Applause].



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