Top leaders of the Jatiya Oikyafront yesterday said the atmosphere in the country is not at all congenial for holding a free and fair election but it will not quit the electoral race regardless of the situation.
"It's a challenge [for us]," commented Dr Kamal Hossain in response to a query after several Oikyafront leaders talked about the absence of a level playing field even two weeks after the announcement of the election schedule.
Flanked by several other leaders of the opposition alliance, he was speaking at a view-exchange meeting with editors of different dailies yesterday.
"We must stay in the electoral race," said BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir in response to a question whether the Oikyafront, an alliance of the BNP and several other opposition parties, would boycott the polls due to the absence of a congenial atmosphere, according to meeting sources.
"We have decided to contest the election as part of our democratic movement," one of the sources quoted him as saying.
After Dr Kamal used the term "challenge", Mahmudur Rahman Manna, a top leader of the Oikyafront, said, "We decided to join the election taking it as a challenge. We have got a huge response from people. We don't want to boycott the polls."
"We are contesting the election, expecting a ballot revolution. People want to exercise their right to franchise. They want an opportunity for this," said Manna, also convener of Nagorik Oikya, a component of Oikyafront.
"We formed the Oikyafront to go to the polls. We want to create an opportunity for the voters to cast ballots," one of the sources quoted BNP Standing Committee Member Moudud Ahmed as saying.
"We must stay in the electoral race. But the atmosphere in the country is not at all congenial for holding a free and fair election," he pointed out.
Seeking anonymity, a senior BNP leader, who attended the meeting, said the Oikyafront leaders from now on may refrain from giving threats of election boycott because it sends a confusing message to the grassroots and also to the voters. Instead, they will keep demanding the improvement of the election environment.
The opposition combine now wants to gear up preparations for the polls.
On Thursday night, a five-member committee was formed to coordinate the task of sharing seats among Oikyafront partners and the components of the BNP-led alliance, said party insiders.
The high-profile committee is comprised of BNP Standing Committee members Khandakar Mosharraf Hossain, Mirza Abbas and Nazrul Islam Khan, and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal President ASM Abdur Rob and Manna.
The BNP may leave 60 to 70 seats for other components of the 20-party alliance and the Oikyafront, party insiders said.
The party thinks huge gathering of its activists and supporters in front of the Nayapaltan office during sale of its nomination forms has boosted confidence of its grassroots.
It also considers the sale of a huge number of its nomination forms as a positive sign.
In the last five days, more than 4,500 forms were sold to party men willing to contest the 11th parliamentary election on its ticket.
The party will start interviewing its nomination hopefuls tomorrow.
The nomination board, comprising BNP Standing Committee members, will sit at the BNP chief's Gulshan office to pick the competent candidates, BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi told reporters.
He said the nomination seekers from Rangpur and Rajshahi divisions will be interviewed on the first day.
The presidents and secretaries of the party's city, district and upazila units will be present to give their opinions during the interviews, added the BNP leader.
MEETING WITH EDITORS
At the view-exchange meeting at a city hotel, Oikyafront leaders urged the media to play its role in holding a free and fair election by focusing on anomalies in the electoral process.
At the beginning, Fakhrul alleged that 400 fresh cases were filed against the BNP men and more than 2,000 opposition men were arrested in two weeks after the announcement of the election schedule, said meeting sources.
He claimed that intelligence agency personnel are verifying details about presiding officers and polling officers to ensure that no anti-ruling party person is appointed as a polling official.
Fakhrul also alleged that his party activists have to stay away from their homes because of police harassment and “false cases” against them.
After the meeting, Dr Kamal told reporters that they sought cooperation from the media for the holding of a free and fair election.
"We have exchanged views with the editors. They gave their opinions.
“We hope the media will be alert on the issues that we have highlighted at the meeting.”
He further said, “The main objective of the discussion was to know the editors' observations about the past elections. They have shared their views with us.
“The government has a responsibility to ensure the holding of a free and fair election. Similarly, the opposition parties also have responsibilities for maintaining a congenial atmosphere so that a free and fair election can be held.”
WHO WILL BE PM?
Talking to reporters, Amader Natun Shomoy Editor Naimul Islam Khan said that when an editor at the meeting wanted to know who would be the prime minister if Oikyafront wins the election, Dr Kamal replied that the majority of the parties would sit and decide on it after discussions.
Prothom Alo Editor Matiur Rahman, New Age Editor Nurul Kabir, Manabzamin Editor Matiur Rahman Chowdhury, Bdnews24.com Editor-in-chief Toufique Imrose Khalidi, News Today Editor Moslem Uddin Ahmed, Dhaka Tribune Editor Zafar Sobhan, Holiday Editor Kamaluddin Ahmed and weekly Saptahik Editor Golam Mortaza, among others, were present.