November 9, 2018
Bangladesh will hold a parliamentary election on December 23 despite the failure of political parties to resolve major contentious issues over the polls.
The country’s chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda said there was a “congenial atmosphere” to hold the polls and promised it will be free and fair.
“We hope we will be able to hold a free, fair and acceptable election,” Huda said in a televised address.
A day before, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina wrapped up week-long talks between the ruling Awami League-led 14-party combine and at least 80 parties under the banners of different alliances.
During the dialogue, Jatiya Oikyafront, an alliance of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and several other opposition parties, demanded for a dissolution of parliament before the polls and the creation of a caretaker government. The ruling party, however, rejected it over constitutionality.
Hasina is seeking reelection while her rival, Kaleda Zia, is in jail on two separate corruption cases and is unlikely to be allowed to run. Parties must file nominations by November 19.
Analysts fear the political situation may get complicated further following the announcement of the schedule as major issues remain unsettled.
Oikyafront has threatened protests in the coming days if the schedule was announced without resolving the crisis.
Oikyafront top leader Dr Kamal Hossain wrote to the Election Commission (EC) on Saturday, requesting it not to announce the schedule until the crisis over the polls was resolved. A team also met with the election commissioner on Tuesday with the same plea.
“We requested the EC not to announce the election schedule until the political parties reach a consensus on resolving the current political crisis. But the EC didn’t keep our request, which squandered the opportunity to resolve the crisis,” Mujahidul Islam Selim, president of the Communist Party of Bangladesh, a component of the Left Democratic Alliance, told The Daily Star.
“Such a move by the Election Commission is not only harmful, but also dangerous,” he added.
Ali Riaz, a professor of the politics and government department at the Illinois State University in the US, told The Daily Star that the announcement of the election schedule not only makes the situation complex but also pushes it to an unwanted direction.
“I hope the Election Commission members will understand that they will need to shoulder the responsibility for creating such a situation,” he said.
Huda had requested all political parties to resolve their differences politically if there was any, and said they should remain careful so that the polls atmosphere does not turn violent.
The EC has unveiled the schedule in an unusual hurry. After the filing of candidacy deadline on November 19, the commission has three days until November 22 to scrutinize the nominations. Last date for withdrawing candidacy is on November 29.
But since the June 1996 polls, none of the four previous ECs came up with polls schedules in such haste. Following the start of the 90-day countdown to polls, each of the ECs took one month on average to announce the schedule. Huda, however, announced the schedule only a week after the 90-day countdown began on October 31. According to the timeframe, the election should be held on or by January 28.
The EC finalised the schedule at a meeting yesterday morning and announced it in the evening.
Among the promises that the commission made are ensuring a level playing field for all political parties and candidates and deploying 600,000 enforcers across the country to maintain law and order.