Led by Gonoforum President Dr Kamal Hossain, the Jatiya Oikyafront delegation stepped inside the Gono Bhaban around 6:45pm. They exchanged greetings with the 14-party team, led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
They all took their seats.
After that, Hasina, in her speech, informed the Oikyafront leaders about the success of her government in various fields. At the end of her speech, Dr Kamal initiated the talks, thanking the PM for her role in this regard. He made a short statement saying all their demands could be met within the purview of the constitution.
He then asked BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir to place their seven-point demand, which Fakhrul read out.
Fakhrul also talked about the release of party Chairperson Khaleda Zia, now in jail in a corruption case.
In reply, Hasina said, “It's not my issue. It's a court issue. Please remember that I did not file any case against Khaleda Zia.”
Later on, other leaders took the floor.
BNP Standing Committee Member Moudud Ahmed talked about the cases filed against party leaders and activists.
The PM then pointed to Moudud and said, “I went to Khaleda Zia's office to offer condolence after the death of her son. Mr Moudud, you were standing behind the gate. You did not open the door.”
Moudud said, “I wasn't there. I was on the first floor. When I heard about it, I rebuked the office staff for not opening the door.”
At one point, BNP leaders asked for the PM's resignation and dissolution of parliament before the upcoming polls. Hasina replied, “You are asking for my resignation. If I resign, who will take over?
Turning to Dr Kamal, she said, “You are one of those who framed the constitution of 1972. You know we did not add anything to our electoral system. We brought back what was there in the constitution of '72.
“Did Bangabandhu step down as prime minister to take part in the election then? Or did he join the polls while remaining as the prime minister?
“You [Kamal] yourself had participated in that election. Now India and several other countries follow this way. Then why are you asking me to resign?”
At that, Dr Kamal said, “It will take some time to settle the issue. Don't end the dialogue process here. Please meet the demands that you can meet now. We can hold discussions on those you can't meet right now.”
He urged the PM to continue talks to settle the pending issues.
Nagorik Oikya Convener Mahmudur Rahman Manna asked the PM, “Are you closing the talks or are they still open?”
She replied, “No, the door [for talks] is open. Whenever needed, we can have talks. Right now, I have 20 applications seeking talks [with us]. It will take 20 more days for holding the talks.”
Hasina then asked the members of the 14-party to speak.
Senior Awami League leader Tofail Ahmed took the floor and talked about the Oikyafront demand for deployment of army with magistracy power.
“The army was given magistracy power during the tenure of Shahabuddin Ahmed. You might have forgotten the way they tortured people but I haven't,” he said.
Afterwards, Information Minister Hasanul Haq Inu talked about the grounds for various cases filed against BNP men.
“People were burnt during your [BNP] movement. Would cases not be filed in this connection? You are talking about political cases but if you vandalise vehicles, torch cars and set fire [to those] should you not be sued?”
Inu continued: “I am sorry; I am not trying to hurt anyone. I am just stating the facts.”
Another member of the 14-party team, Moinuddin Khan Badal, said, “History has incidents like August 15 and August 21. Should those issues not be settled?”
Queried by BNP leaders on the arrest of opposition leaders and activists, the PM asked for a list of the arrestees and said action would be taken after investigation.
At this, Fakhrul asked, “Where should I send the list? Your office?”
The PM replied: “Send them to my office.”
About meetings and rallies, Hasina said she had instructed the police to allow opposition men to hold rallies. Dr Kamal said, “Can we publicly say that we will not be barred from holding any rally anywhere in the country? Have you, the prime minister, given this order?”
Hasina said, “Yes, you can.”
The Oikyafront team then requested Hasina to ask the Election Commission not to announce the polls schedule until the dialogue was over.
Hasina replied, “[Announcement of] election schedule is not my issue. It's an issue of the Election Commission. They are the ones to make the decision. I never interfere in such issues.”
Asked about restructuring the EC, the PM said, “The commission was formed based on [recommendations of] a search committee. So, how can it be reconstituted? It's not possible.”
A BNP leader said the caretaker government system was introduced as the Awami League had pressed for it.
In response, a leader from the 14-party team said there was a context for that and the demand was realised through movements. “If you can, press for your demand through movements.”
Hasina then asked Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury to say something.
Zafrullah said, “Hold a free and fair election and you will win a Nobel prize.”
To that, Hasina said, “If it were Khaleda Zia's rule, you would have gone to jail for what you have [recently] said about the army.”
Hasina then concluded the three and a half hour meeting saying, “I am assuring you that the election will be free and fair. There will be no rigging. I am guaranteeing that voting will be fair. You [can] join the polls.”
During the talks, snacks and juice were offered to the participants who said the dialogue was held in a congenial atmosphere.
[The report is prepared based on information given to The Daily Star by several meeting participants.]