With Zia ready, Bangladesh poll may be held Dec 28


Dhaka : Bangladesh’s Election Commission is mulling to put back the already delayed national elections by 10 days provided former prime minister Khaleda Zia’s Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led four-party alliance commits to participate.

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Election Commissioner Muhammed Sohul Hussain told The Daily Star: “We may shift the election from Dec 18 to Dec 28 if they [four-party] decide to participate.”

He added that if the parliamentary election is held Decr 28, the upazila polls will be held either on Jan 7 or Jan 9.

M. Sakhawat Hussain, another election commissioner, told reporters that the polls must be held by the year-end as per the Supreme Court’s directives.

“We still hope all political parties will take part in the election,” he observed.

Zia Thursday night announced that her party and allies would join the December election if the poll was deferred by 10 days.

Zia’s announcement that she was willing to participate if three of her demands were met was immediately welcomed by the Election Commission and the governmnet Thursday night.

Chief Election Commissioner A.T.M. Shamsul Huda termed the BNP leader’s announcement “positive”, the Daily Star reported.

Education and Commerce Adviser (minister) Hossain Zillur Rahman, the principal interlocutor on behalf of the govenment, said: “It is certainly positive that everybody is showing responsibility.”

While the new proposed date is an apparent climbdown for Zia who wanted a deferment for two months, it meets the military-backed government’s commitment made to the Supreme Court and to the world community that it would hold a credible, all-in poll within this year.

Awami League chief Sheikh Hasina had earlier agreed to a 10-day delay, if that ensured participation by Zia and her Islamist allies, something that would lend credibility to the poll.

Zia and her allies had threatened a mass agitation if their four demands were not met. Their demands included a two-month deferment of the polls to facilitate the return of Muslims who have gone on Haj and return only in the third week of January. They also called for a complete lifting of the state of emergency for the elections.

Talks between the military-backed caretaker government and Zia and her Islamist allies had failed Wednesday and the government said the already delayed polls would be held as scheduled Dec 18.

The role of the military in political decision-making, meanwhile, was adversely commented upon in a New Age editorial Friday.

“Through its seemingly unilateral decision on Wednesday, the current regime has once again given grounds for doubting its sincerity in and commitment to holding truly participatory and credible general elections.

“Moreover, the presence of the army chief and other top security and intelligence officials at the chief adviser’s office during deliberations on Wednesday raises questions, particularly given that the army chief has himself severally stated that elections are a matter for the interim government and the Election Commission, not the military,” the editorial said.

The emergency was imposed in January last year when the ninth general election was called off amidst months of political turmoil, after Hasina and 13 political parties aligned to her Awami League, boycotted the poll.