2 November 2008 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on Sunday that the United Nations will soon be sending an electoral team to Bangladesh ahead of next month's parliamentary polls, which he described as a “historic opportunity” for the South Asian nation.
“I have informed the Government and the political parties that the UN will dispatch a small team of highly capable and prominent individuals who will visit in the coming weeks to assess the conduct of the election and report to me,” Mr. Ban told reporters in the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.
“It is the world's – and your – best interest to see Bangladesh achieve its full potential for democratic development through free and credible elections,” he added.
Calling the December ballot a “historic opportunity,” Mr. Ban stressed that “now is the moment to stand against the polarization and violence that have characterized past elections.
“I saw clearly that democracy belongs in Bangladesh there are no insurmountable obstacles to ushering in a better, brighter, more sustainable democracy after the elections in December,” he said.
That was among the messages Mr. Ban relayed in his meetings with President Iajuddin Ahmed and other top officials, including Chief Advisor Fakhruddin Ahmed and Foreign Advisor Iftekhar Ahmed, as well as leaders of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Awami League.
While in Dhaka he was also briefed by top Bangladeshi generals on the country's role in UN peacekeeping. Bangladesh is currently the second largest troop contributor, with more than 9,000 troops and police officers serving in UN operations around the world.
In addition, Mr. Ban paid a visit to the Martyr's Memorial, where he laid a wreath to honour those who died during Bangladesh's war of independence, and met with UN staff serving in the country.
The Secretary-General also had a chance to witness disaster reduction and management efforts during a visit to a village outside the capital. There he met with families and inspected measures carried out by the local community, with the help of the Government and the UN, that saved many lives during a cyclone last year.
“Bangladesh is an example to the world community on how a vulnerable developing country can strengthen its resilience against recurrent catastrophic events. Your best practices and lessons learned can help other countries, including others in the region prone to natural disasters,” he said.
Mr. Ban shared with the villagers stories of his own struggles as a boy growing up with no proper sanitation or latrine, and about walking a long way to go to school. He encouraged them to remain hopeful and to work to ensure that the lives of their children and grandchildren would be better.
Following that, he met with a group of women in another village who shared their stories of how micro-finance had changed their lives, and also met a group of young people who had been able to pursue higher education thanks to loans from the Grameen Bank, the microfinance institution started by Muhammad Yunus.
As of September 2008, the Bank – which shared the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize with its founder – has 7.6 million borrowers, 97 per cent of whom are women.
Mr. Ban said he was “extremely moved” by the tremendous efforts by the people of Bangladesh to attain self-sustainability. “What I have witnessed today will certainly set an example for the rest of the developing world.”
Bangladesh was the final leg of a four-nation Asia trip that also took the Secretary-General to the Philippines, India and Nepal.
News Tracker: past stories on this issue