40. Telegram From the Embassy in Bangladesh to the Department of State1

1289. CINCPAC for POLAD. Department pass AID/ASIA/BIS. ICA for NEA. Subject: Bangladesh’s Parliamentary Elections. Ref: A. Dacca 965;2 B. Dacca 1075.3

[Page 112]

1. (C) Entire text.

2. Summary. The February 18 Parliamentary election was the culmination of President Zia’s carefully controlled three-year transition from a martial law regime to an elected constitutional government; the result should provide Zia with a reasonably solid base for launching his experiment in democracy. The strong performance of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) appears due in large measure to voter satisfaction with the President himself. Zia campaigned hard, and it is generally perceived that many BNP candidates would not have won without his support. Bangladesh’s system of single-member constituencies and the large number of candidates in most of them have given the BNP better than a two-thirds majority in the new Parliament with about 41 percent of the total votes cast. It is generally considered that the BNP will remain amenable to Zia’s leadership for the short term at least, despite the party’s lack of cohesiveness and tradition. Among the opposition parties, the Awami League showed that it retains a hard core of support and organizational strength but also continues to suffer from serious limitations. The Muslim League proved that it still has a following, although one which is likely to remain limited. The radical JSD has developed a regional base, strength from which it might be able to expand to a position of national strength under certain circumstances. Prospects for opposition unity in Parliament are slim, given the mutual antagonisms among Awami League, Muslim League and JSD. We believe the cumulative impact on outcome of election-day improprieties (and in which opposition as well as BNP reportedly engaged) was limited and consider election reasonably fair and honest by South Asian standards. End summary.

[Omitted here is the body of the telegram.]

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790096–0720. Confidential; Priority. Sent for information to New Delhi, Islamabad, Kathmandu, Colombo, Calcutta, CINCPAC, and USICA.
  2. Telegram 965 from Dacca, February 15, offered predictions on how well the BNP would do in the upcoming Parliamentary elections. The Embassy thought that the most likely outcome was that the BNP would win between 50 and 75 percent of the vote. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790073–1099)
  3. Telegram 1075 from Dacca, February 22, reported Zia’s February 19 press conference, during which he predicted a BNP election victory large enough to obviate the need to form a coalition. (National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D790086–0134)