President's talks begin today
With uncertainty looming large over the success of talks, President Zillur Rahman today opens dialogues with political parties seeking their opinion on the formation of a new Election Commission.
The current commission's tenure expires in early February.
On the first day, he will consult with senior leaders of Jatiya Party and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, two components of Awami League-led ruling alliance that elected Zillur to presidency in 2009.
Senior leaders of the main opposition BNP have already taken a stance against joining the talks. The party may reply to the president's invitation once it gets it and then urge him to open a dialogue on restoration of the caretaker government system, which is the party's all-important issue now, sources in the party said.
BNP insiders say that the Bangabhaban's decision not to invite Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami, a key ally of the BNP-led alliance, has pushed BNP more towards not joining the talks. The Bangabhaban, the president's office and residence, decided not to invite Jamaat-e-Islami to the talks for its anti-liberation role in 1971. The party's top leaders are detained in connection with crimes against humanity.
"Restoration of the caretaker government is now the top agenda of BNP. So, we want this issue to be resolved first and we are ready to hold talks with the government in this regard," said Lt Gen (retd) Mahbubur Rahman, a member of BNP's national standing committee.
"In the name of holding talks, the government is using the presidency for its own political gains. The talks will not be successful," he said, terming the dialogues eyewash.
If the BNP finally boycotts the talks, possibility of forging a consensus on the formation of the new Election Commission will be very slim.
Like some political analysts, outgoing Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda on Tuesday also expressed his doubt about the success of the talks which were suddenly initiated by the president. All signs now suggest that political weather will be stormy in the coming days.
Meanwhile, ruling Awami League acting General Secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif said the president made the move to constitute an Election Commission acceptable to all and all parties should join the talks. "For the first time in the country's history, the president made such a move," he said.
Asked about BNP's possible boycott, Hanif, also special assistant to the prime minister, said, "They [BNP] will lose the opportunity to make their opinion on the formation of the new Election Commission count, if they boycott the talks."
The Bangabhaban announced on December 18 that the president will begin the talks with political parties from December 22. It followed by sending invitations to Jatiya Party and Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal. On Tuesday it also sent invitation letters to six other political parties for talks in the coming week.
"We will send invitations to other political parties gradually in the next week," president's Press Secretary AKM Nesar Uddin Bhuiyan told The Daily Star yesterday. According to him, the ruling Awami League and main opposition BNP will get invitations in the next week. He said 20 political parties will be invited to the talks.
Joining the talks, some political parties may propose enacting a law in line with the outgoing Election Commission's proposal that would require formation of an independent search committee whose job would be to find the right people for the commission.
The outgoing commission was also of the opinion that a law should be enacted with a provision for parliamentary scrutiny in choosing a new Election Commission.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, Workers Party's chief Rashed Khan Menon said his party supports the talks for forming the commission. Joining the talks "we will advocate the Election Commission's proposals”, he said.
Ruhul Amin Hawlader, secretary general of Jatiya Party, said they will hear the president first and then give their opinions. "If the president seeks names of individuals for the post of chief election commissioner and other commissioners, we may propose so," he said.
After the talks, the president, on the advice of the prime minister, will appoint a new commission chief and other commissioners to form the new Election Commission that will conduct the all-important next parliamentary election slated to be held anytime in January, 2014.
However, the invitation letters signed by secretary to the public division of Bangabhaban, Mohammad Shafiul Alam, said the president himself wants to make the final decision after talking to the political parties.
Zillur's predecessor Iajuddin Ahmed in October, 2006, opened a series of talks with political parties in the wake of a political stalemate over the appointment of the chief adviser to the caretaker government.