Demand for poll date on parties' agenda as EC restarts talks today | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 24, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 24, 2008

Demand for poll date on parties' agenda as EC restarts talks today

The Election Commission (EC) begins today its second round of talks with political parties with the unsolved BNP issue remaining a barrier to finalising the electoral reform proposals, which in turn is delaying the proposed talks between the government itself and the parties.
The EC on November 5 of last year invited M Saifur Rahman-led faction of BNP to the first round of electoral reform dialogue with it on November 22, prompting Khandaker Delwar Hossain-led faction, loyal to detained Chairperson Khaleda Zia, to challenge the commission's decision in the High Court (HC).
The matter is still pending in the HC resulting in the EC's failure to hold yet the first round of talk with BNP.
The political parties, invited to join the second round of talks with the commission, are expected to demand a date for the next parliamentary election, and lifting of the state of emergency for creating an atmosphere conducive to holding the polls and to their pre-poll preparations.
On the first day of the second round of talks, the EC will sit separately with Bikalpadhara Bangladesh, Bangladesh Workers Party, and Samyabadi Dal in the EC Secretariat aiming to wrap up the dialogues with 15 parties in five days.
But the commission is most likely destined to fail in wrapping up the talks on February 29 as it is still in a logjam regarding the BNP issue.
Since the matter has not been resolved yet, the EC has excluded BNP from the schedule of the second round of talks, although the chief election commissioner (CEC) has repeatedly been saying that the electoral reform proposals will not be finalised until the commission talks with the party fraught with factional feud.
Against such a backdrop, the proposed dialogues between the political parties and the caretaker government itself might get delayed as it is hinging upon the completion of EC's talks with them.
Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed in his address to the nation on January 12 announced an immediate initiation of steps for holding dialogues with the political parties. But later the government said it will begin its talks only after the EC's is wrapped up.
Under the circumstances, the possibility of forging an understanding between the government and the political parties through the talks is diminishing fast, as the EC's deadline to the government for deciding the fate of the state of emergency and for countrywide lifting of the restrictions on indoor politics is coming near.
The EC at a meeting with the chief adviser on February 4 set the end of March as the deadline for lifting the restrictions on indoor politics countrywide, so the political parties may resume their activities for bringing necessary organisational reforms for being eligible for registration with the commission.
The EC also asked the government to decide by early next month whether the state of emergency will be lifted or relaxed to create an environment conducive to holding the long due polls to four city corporations and seven municipalities in April.
But it is still not clear how the government will respond to the EC's requests, which is triggering a public confusion prompting many to wonder whether the disconnect is similar to an early non-cooperation of the same military backed caretaker government with the commission, on the matter of lifting the ban on indoor politics.
CEC ATM Shamsul Huda on April 4 of last year, at a meeting with the then law adviser, asked the interim government to immediately lift the restrictions on indoor politics to facilitate the EC's plan for holding electoral reform talks with the parties.
The government took until September 10 to respond to the EC's urgent request, with relaxing of the ban on a limited scale only in the capital. Taking whatever it could gain, the EC began the first round of talks on September 12.
The commission however could not complete the first round of talks by November of last year in line with its electoral roadmap announced on July 15 of the same year, due to the hanging BNP issue.
The failure also delayed bringing of amendments to electoral laws by February of this year, as stipulated in the roadmap.
Meanwhile, the political parties are planning to raise some crucial issues at the second round of talks including the issues of lifting the state of emergency and of expediting the process of voter listing.
On the second day of the talks with EC tomorrow, Awami League and the Communist Party of Bangladesh are scheduled to sit with the commission.
Since its reconstitution on February 4 of last year, the EC initiated a massive campaign for reforming the electoral law. On April 5 it announced a set of electoral reform proposals.
During the second round of talks both sides will discuss some of the reform proposals that had not been settled in the first round.
Once the proposals are finalised, the EC will send those to the caretaker government for making them into laws for holding the stalled ninth parliamentary election.
When the proposals will be made into laws, the political parties intending to contest the next parliamentary polls will have to be registered with the EC, as the proposed reform makes it mandatory for the parties to get registered with the commission in order to be eligible to contest the polls.
According to the EC's electoral roadmap, the political parties' registrations must be completed by June of this year through meeting a set of proposed criteria, for which most of the political parties will have to hold their national councils and elect new leaderships after amending their constitutions.
And for the parties to be able to hold their national councils, restrictions on indoor politics must be lifted countrywide allowing them to resume their political activities.
UNB adds: Awami League (AL) is expected to place its demands for announcement of election schedule and lifting the ban on indoor politics across the country at the second round of talks with the Election Commission's scheduled for tomorrow.
"Issues like the release of Sheikh Hasina and his treatment may also come up at the discussion," Acting AL General secretary Syed Ashraful Islam told reporters after a meeting of its working committee yesterday.
The meeting was held at the AL president's office in Dhanmondi with acting party chief Zillur Rahman in the chair.
The Election Commission is going to open its second round of dialogue with the political parties today. On the first day, the commission will sit with Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh.
Awami League received the EC's invitation letter on February 20 to join the second round of dialogue. The invitation letter was addressed to Acting AL General Secretary Syed Ashraful Islam.
"We hope that this time the dialogue will be more fruitful and the nation will march one step forward for holding the (stalled parliamentary) elections," Asharaful said.
Asked what proposals the party will place before the EC this time, he said they want to place those before the EC first and then the media.
He said 10 Awami League representatives will join the talks with the Election Commission.
The party, this time also, is trying to place identical proposals before the EC on behalf of the AL-led 14-party alliance. The proposals will be finalised after a meeting between AL and NAP (Muzaffer) today.
The Election Commission started its first round of talks with the political parties on September 12, 2007 and concluded on December 11.

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