All eyes will be on returning officers today to know if Khaleda Zia would be allowed to run in the December 30 polls.
If the ROs reject her nominations during the scrutiny of nomination papers, the BNP will launch a legal battle for Khaleda's participation in the election. Her lawyers were preparing for it, party insiders said.
The BNP chief, who has been behind bars since February 8 after being sentenced by a special court to five years in jail in a graft case, has filed nomination papers for Bogura-5, 6 and Feni-1.
However, uncertainty looms large over her participation in the polls following a latest development at the Supreme Court.
A High Court bench last week made an observation that an accused sentenced to more than two years in jail cannot contest an election even if an appeal against the sentence remains pending. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court did not interfere in the observation.
Amid such a situation, the ROs scrutinise 3,065 nominations, including the three of Khaleda, today.
“If the decision goes against her [Khaleda Zia], we will file an appeal with the Election Commission against the decision,” BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir told The Daily Star yesterday.
“If we are not satisfied with the EC's decision, we will move the Supreme Court against it.”
Khaleda's lawyers, who have discussed the latest development at the SC, think that the HC's observation does not have any binding impact either on the EC or the returning officers.
The BNP chief filed an appeal with the HC, challenging the lower court's verdict. But the court on October 30 rejected the appeal and enhanced her punishment to 10 years in jail from five years.
The previous day, the same special court sentenced her to seven years' imprisonment on charges of abusing power during her second term as the prime minister (2001-2006). The charges include collecting and spending Tk 6.52 crore for different purposes, including purchase of 42-katha land in the capital to set up a charitable trust named after her late husband Ziaur Rahman.
Khaleda's lawyers filed two appeals against the verdicts delivered by the HC and the special court. The appeals were filed on November 18 and 19 with the SC and the HC.
Fakhrul said the party has already instructed its candidates to file appeals with the EC if their nominations are not accepted by the returning officers.
The party has asked all its candidates to be present at the RO offices with necessary documents during the scrutiny of nominations. They have also been advised to take along with them the voters who put their signatures to nomination forms as the proposer and supporters.
The BNP policymakers expressed worries that returning officers might reject nominations of some party candidates as they were sentenced to different jail terms and their appeals were pending with higher courts.
The opposition party has fielded multiple candidates in almost all constituencies as back-up nominees. Besides filing nomination papers for his own constituency (Thakurgaon-1), Fakhrul has submitted nominations for Bogura-6, a stronghold for Khaleda.
BNP leader Morshed Milton has filed nomination papers for Bogura-7, another stronghold for the party chief. Jubo Dal leader Rafiqul Islam Majnu would run in Feni-1 on behalf of the BNP chairperson.
Apart from Khaleda, BNP leaders Rafiqul Islam Miah, Amanullah Aman, Shahjahan Omar, Iqbal Hasan, AZM Jahid, Abdul Wahab, Mashiur Rahman, Abdul Wadud Bhuiyan and some others cannot contest the polls this time due to the HC ruling.
'STOP WHOLESALE ARREST'
The BNP yesterday demanded that the EC immediately take steps to stop “wholesale arrests” of its leaders and activists, release the arrested party men and reshuffle the local administrations.
“Police drives have been continuing across the country... Wholesale arrest is also going on,” BNP standing committee member Moudud Ahmed told reporters after a meeting at the EC.
He alleged that BNP men cannot stay at home and seven probable party candidates have already been arrested and sent to jail.
“It has become difficult to secure bail for our leaders and activists from lower courts as they remain under control of the government.”
In a letter submitted to the EC, the BNP also demanded withdrawal of controversial officials from the commission, public administration and home ministries and the Police Headquarters.
Moudud said all of them (DCs, UNOs, SPs and OCs) were working under the government.
He said a partisan government is in power now and the ministers and MPs are enjoying all privileges and exercising their power. “Under this circumstance, it will not be possible to ensure a level playing field.”