The nomination papers of BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia and many of her party leaders were rejected by returning officers during scrutiny yesterday, dealing a fresh blow to the party.
The BNP does not even have any candidates in at least three constituencies -- Dhaka-1, Bogura-7 and Manikganj-2 -- as none of the nomination papers filed by eight BNP leaders was accepted. The party fielded multiple candidates in the three seats.
As of filing of this report at 1:00am today, it was known that the nomination paper of only one Awami League candidate -- former MP Zakir Hossain in Kurigram-4 -- was rejected for concealing information in the affidavit.
The rejection of the nomination papers of at least 30 dissidents willing to contest the polls as independent candidates in 27 districts appears to be a blessing for the ruling party.
At least 43 nomination papers filed by BNP leaders were rejected in as many districts. So far 18 nomination papers of JP leaders, including its Secretary General Ruhul Amin Hawlader, were rejected.
The ROs rejected 786 of 3,065 nomination papers during scrutiny across the country on the grounds of conviction in cases, defaulted loans and non-payment of utility service bills, according to an EC statement.
The aspirants whose nomination papers were rejected yesterday will have scope for filing appeals with the Election Commission against the ROs' decisions by Wednesday.
The EC will hold hearing on December 6, 7 and 8 to dispose of the appeals.
Khaleda, who has been in jail since February 8 after being sentenced to five years in prison in a graft case, filed three nomination papers to contest from Bogura-6, 7 and Feni-1. She was also sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment in another corruption case in October.
All her nomination papers were rejected on the grounds of her conviction in the two cases.
The party has backup candidates in Bogura-6, and Feni-1 but no one in Bogura 7.
The BNP picked Morshed Milton as a backup candidate in Bogura-7.
But his nomination papers were rejected as the RO concerned claimed Milton did not resign from the post of Gabtoli upazila parishad chairman before filing the papers.
Talking to journalists later, Milton refuted the RO's claim, saying he had resigned before submitting the papers.
Aminul Huq, Iqbal Hasan Mahmud Tuku, Jafrul Islam Chowdhury, Amanullah Aman, Mir Nasiruddin and Ruhul Quddus Talukder Dulu are among those whose nomination papers were rejected on the grounds of conviction in cases.
Interestingly, the RO concerned accepted the nomination paper of AL candidate Haji Mohammad Salim in Dhaka-7, who was sentenced to 13 years in jail in a corruption case in 2008. He filed an appeal against the sentence and was acquitted in the case by the High Court in 2011.
But the Supreme Court in 2015 set aside the HC verdict in response to a petition filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission. The apex court sent the case back to the HC for rehearing the appeal filed by Salim against the special court's conviction in 2008.
Like Salim, BNP leaders Iqbal, Aman, Mir Nasiruddin, and his son Mir Helaluddin were acquitted in the cases in which they were sentenced to jail for different terms in 2008.
Asked about it, ACC lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan said the appeals filed by Salim, Aman and Mir Nasir are pending with the HC.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Mir Nasir said, "This is a mockery."
The nomination paper of former BNP foreign minister Morshed Khan was rejected for non-payment of electricity bills.
The ROs concerned also did not accept nomination papers of BNP leader Gias Quader Chowdhury, his son Samir Quader Chowdhury, and Aslam Chowdhury for defaulting on loans.
Former BNP minister Aminul Huq's nomination papers were also rejected in Rajshahi-1 as he did not produce a certified copy of the verdict that acquitted him in a criminal case.
Ex-BNP lawmakers Nadim Mostafa in Rajshahi-5, Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan in Khagrachhari and Moinul Islam Shanto in Manikganj-2 saw their nomination papers rejected.
Besides, the ROs concerned did not accept the nomination papers of BNP candidates Afroza Abbas, wife of party leader Mirza Abbas, in Dhaka-9, and Nasima Akhter, wife of late BNP leader Nasiruddin Ahmed Pintu, in Dhaka-7 for defaulting on loans.
The BNP picked 696 candidates in 295 constituencies as it opted to field multiple candidates from each constituency as backup.
The ROs did not accept more than a dozen nomination papers of Jatiya Party leaders on the grounds of either defaulting on loans or non-payment of utility service bills.
JP Secretary General Ruhul Amin Hawlader's nomination papers were rejected for defaulting on loans.
Ex-finance minister Shah AMS Kibria's son Reza Kibria, who recently joined the Gonoforum -- a component of the Jatiya Oikyafront -- filed nomination papers in Habganj-1. But his papers were rejected for defaulting on loans.
The nomination papers of Abdul Kader Siddique, president of Krishak Sramik Janata League -- another component of the Oikyafront -- was also rejected on the same grounds.
The BNP-led 20-party alliance yesterday reacted sharply to the rejection of the nomination papers of its leaders.
Denouncing the rejection, alliance spokesperson Oli Ahmed, also president of Liberal Democratic Party, said at a press briefing, “Nomination papers of at least 80 aspirants of the 20-party combine were rejected to pave the way for victory of the ruling party."
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir alleged that the government is implementing its “blueprint” to hold a lopsided election.
“They want to keep the opposition leaders and activists out of the electoral race and this was reflected today. It clearly showed that the government does not have any intention to hold an inclusive election.”
He also said they would start a legal battle.
“But a big question is how neutral the Election Commission will be ...”
On the rejection of the BNP candidates' nomination papers, EC Secretary Helal Uddin Ahmed said, “Returning officers rejected their nomination papers after scrutiny.
“But this is not the final decision. They have scope for filing appeals [with the EC],” he told reporters at the commission office yesterday evening.
Talking to this newspaper, former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussain said the rejection of the nomination papers of all BNP candidates in the three seats is abnormal.
“The Election Commission should investigate this properly.”