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Volume 454: debated on Wednesday 13 December 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what recent assessment she has made of the political stability of Bangladesh. (108722)

Elections in Bangladesh are scheduled for January 2007. It is vital for the future of Bangladesh that these elections are seen to be free, fair and peaceful, and that the result reflects the will of the Bangladeshi people. International observers will have an important role to play in validating the outcome of the elections—the UK expects to participate in an EU observation mission. We shall continue to take a close interest in preparations for elections and stand ready to help where we can, but ultimately it is for the parties and the people of Bangladesh to make their elections a success. We look to the new Caretaker Government to carry out its functions in an impartial manner, in line with Bangladesh’s constitution and in the best interests of the Bangladeshi people. We look to the Election Commission to act in a competent and independent manner.

The armed forces have been deployed on the streets since 10 December. We shall monitor that deployment and trust that military personnel will perform their duties impartially and with due respect for human rights and the rule of law.

In the longer term, a dysfunctional and confrontational political culture threatens Bangladeshi democracy; deeply rooted corruption and poor governance threaten Bangladesh’s potential economic development; extremism threatens security and stability. The next Government will need to address these issues if Bangladesh is to fulfil its ambitions.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reports she has received from the British high commissioner to Bangladesh on the implications of Islamic fundamentalism in Bangladesh for the political situation. (108723)

Our high commission in Dhaka regularly reports on the political situation in Bangladesh. This is a critical time for the country. The conduct of the elections in early 2007 will shape Bangladesh’s future.

A number of Islamist parties will participate in the elections. We welcome their commitment to democracy and the use of peaceful means to achieve their objectives. Our concern is with those organisations and individuals who use violence to pursue their extremist agendas. We are encouraged by the recent efforts of the Government of Bangladesh to curb extremism and remain committed to working with them in the long term to address this important challenge.

We believe that strong democracy represents the most effective means of tackling the roots of extremism in Bangladesh and continue to call for free, fair, peaceful and accepted elections in Bangladesh in early 2007.