Talk they talked
Yesterday's talks between the Jatiya Oikyafront and the Awami League-led 14-party alliance began with Dr Kamal Hossain putting forward the Oikyafront's proposals on the outline of the polls-time government, reconstitution of the Election Commission and creation of a level playing field for all political parties.
In response, AL leaders said it was not possible to accept the proposals as those did not explain how the government would be formed after the dissolution of parliament.
"You are trying to bring a dark force to power," said one of the AL leaders.
Dr Kamal then said, "Make a small committee and hold talks with us again. The solution to the problem lies within the purview of the constitution. Your idea is not right. If you come up with an open mind, it is possible to reach a solution."
The ruling party leaders then warned the Oikyafront delegation against bringing “any dark force” to power. "You are trying to create chaos," commented one of them.
Nagorik Oikya Convener Mahmudur Rahman Manna then took the floor and said, "You are accusing us. We too can accuse you. It is not the objective of the dialogue. We want to reach a solution. So talk about the solution.
"You are saying that you have given us permission to hold rallies and meetings. Why permission would be needed? It is our right ... Opposition activists are being arrested and fresh cases are being filed,” Manna said.
At this, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, "No new case will be filed and no one will be arrested except for those who have been accused in criminal cases."
The Oikyafront leaders then talked about the release of BNP chief Khaleda Zia. In response, the ruling party leaders said it is the jurisdiction of the court and the government has nothing to do with it.
As the Oikyafront leaders pointed out that Khaleda was deprived of bail, the AL leaders kept saying it was a matter of the court.
The opposition combine leaders said if the government does not oppose Khaleda's bail petition, she could be released.
"We cannot do this as the Anti-Corruption Commission moves it in the court," replied a ruling party leader.
Oikyafront leaders then made the call for deferring the election schedule.
The ruling party leaders said the matter falls under the EC's jurisdiction and that they cannot interfere in it.
The opposition alliance leaders then urged the ruling party leaders to sit again and take the dialogue forward. But an AL leader said, "We can sit informally, but there will be no more formal talks."
At one point of the three-hour dialogue, AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader asked his BNP counterpart Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir why his party amended its charter at this time.
"The amendment was made in the last council [in 2016] and submitted to the Election Commission later," said Fakhrul.
As Quader cited the court decision in this regard, Fakhrul asked, "Will the court draft the party charter?"
The PM then told Manna, "You gave some tough speeches yesterday [Tuesday]."
Taking the floor, Quader said, "Why did you [Manna] talk so tough yesterday? You said you would sacrifice your life for Khaleda Zia."
Manna replied, “I did not say that I will sacrifice my life for Khaleda Zia.”
Quader said, "No, some media houses reported it."
Oikyafront leaders then proposed reconstituting the EC.
One of the AL leaders said, "The commission was formed through a search committee. Only Kabita [Election Commissioner Kabita Khanam] was nominated by us and the rest were nominated by you."
BNP leader Moudud Ahmed said the situation in the country is so bad that he could not even go to his ancestral home in Noakhali.
Quader said he faced the same situation when the BNP-led four-party alliance was in power.
Then the PM said, "You [Moudud] grabbed someone else's house in Dhaka [city]."
Moudud replied, "No, no, this is not correct."
The PM said, "The owner of the house is not in the country. How did you get the house in your name? We did not interfere in it ... The court gave the verdict.”
Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal President ASM Abdur Rab said, "Please do something. There is a crisis in the country. Please come forward with an open mind to save the country.”
PM then said, “I am trying to save the country. I am trying hard to save it from destruction. I am suspicious about what you want to do by placing such proposals.”
Manna told the PM that during the first round of talks, she had assured them that the election would be free and fair.
"I was touched and moved by your words. I thought I could trust your words. I said this even in a talk show. But we now have a lack of confidence.
“We cannot believe all your words. We are trying to create a situation of mutual trust. Please give us some hope and do something that will create mutual confidence."
An Oikyafront leader then said the government must stop arrest and filing of cases against opposition activists as this would help build confidence among the opposition leaders and activists.
"Can we say this publicly?” asked the leader.
Hasina then replied, "Yes, you can."
The opposition leader then said, "You [Hasina] just said we want to bring a dark force to power. But we too can say that you do not want our participation in the election."
Towards the end of the meeting, the PM said, "Do not make any request for deferring the election schedule. Do not try to foil the election. Do not create any bar to holding the polls. Join the election. I am saying the polls will be free and fair."
Following the PM's concluding remarks, the Oikyafront leaders left the Gono Bhaban.
[The report is based on information given to The Daily Star by several participants in yesterday's talks.]