EC to ask govt to try war criminals | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 25, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 25, 2008

Talks With Parties Begin

EC to ask govt to try war criminals

Specific poll date in a few more days, CEC assures

Responding favourably to a tidal rise of the demand for trial of war criminals, the Election Commission (EC) yesterday announced that it will make a recommendation to the caretaker government to initiate steps for the trials.
Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda disclosed the plan on the first day of the second round of electoral reform talks with parliamentary political parties yesterday.
The talks resumed without BNP being on the list of invitees due to its unresolved factional feud, making it's representation a matter of dispute between two rival factions, a settlement of which is currently pending in the High Court sans an amicable resolution.
In a bid to dispel the growing uncertainty in the public mind over holding of the stalled ninth parliamentary election according to the electoral roadmap, the EC sought the parties' suggestions on a tentative timeframe for the poll after having the voter list ready by the end of October this year.
Responding to the parties' demand for a specific date for the stalled parliamentary election, the CEC said the commission will be able to announce a date after a few more days.
The EC already incorporated a provision disqualifying the war criminals from contesting in any election in its draft electoral reform proposal, but if they are not tried and convicted, the provision will lose its teeth even if the proposal is made into a law.
"We don't have the jurisdiction to try the war criminals. We will however make a recommendation to the government for trying them," CEC ATM Shamsul Huda said yesterday during the second round of electoral reform talks initiated by the commission.
The CEC also suggested the political parties to raise the issues strongly with the caretaker government during their proposed dialogues with it. "I think, the government will begin the dialogues with political parties next month and it will invite the same parties that we invited," said the CEC.
The CEC told the dialoguing parties that the EC will also make recommendations to the government regarding some other crucial issues including article 70 of the constitution which has long been blamed for preventing lawmakers from playing their roles freely in the parliament, an increase in the number of parliamentary seats, and introduction of a bicameral parliament.
About the EC's jurisdiction to make such recommendations, the CEC said the commission has the right to make recommendations to the government, being a constitutional body for holding free and fair elections to sustain democracy.
"Wrapping up the talks with the parties, we will prepare a comprehensive report summarising the outcomes of the talks. We will incorporate our recommendations in the report," Huda said adding, "I think, the government will consider the recommendations in due time."
In the first round of talks which was held between September and November of last year, most of the participating political parties demanded disqualification of war criminals from contesting in polls.
Apart from the political parties, veteran freedom fighters, family members of martyrs, and a large number of conscious citizens also have been urging the caretaker government, through the year of its stay in power, to try the war criminals.
In response to the rising demand, the CEC on September 16 of last year at a meeting with a political party said although the war criminals should have been tried immediately after the country's independence, all successive governments refrained from trying the anti-liberation forces.
The current caretaker government also seems to follow the footsteps of the previous governments regarding the issue although the chief adviser earlier said the war criminals' contest in elections will be unwanted.
On the first day of the second round of electoral reform talks, the EC yesterday sat with Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh, Samyabadi Dal, and the Workers Party of Bangladesh, separately in the EC Secretariat conference room.
Participating in the talks, Workers Party and Samyabadi Dal urged the EC to announce a specific date for the parliamentary election after wrapping up the talks, and not to hold polls to any local government before the national election.
Both the parties also urged the government to lift the state of emergency immediately and to try the war criminals in special tribunals.
About trials of the war criminals, Workers Party President Rashed Khan Menon, who led the party delegation to the talks, said the proposal of the commission for barring war criminals from contesting in polls will remain on papers only, if the government does not start trying them.
Samayabadi Badi Dal (M-L) chief Dilip Barua, who led his party's delegation to the talks, urged the EC not to register any political party as a parliamentary party if it has war criminals in its leadership.
Earlier in the day, Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh placed a set of recommendations to the EC for reducing poll expenditures.
Accompanied by two other election commissioners --- Muhammed Sohul Hussain and Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussain --- the CEC explained the commission's positions on different issues raised by the parties at the talks.
Informing the parties about the progress of voter listing, CEC Huda said half of the task of preparing a voter list with photographs is scheduled to be completed by the 28th of this month.
"Registration of eight crore voters will be completed by February 28. We are now confident that the voter list will be ready by October," the CEC assured the political parties, reiterating that the stalled parliamentary election will be held before the year end.
Saying that the voter list will be ready by October, the CEC sought opinions from the parties regarding a timetable for holding the stalled ninth parliamentary election.
In response, Samayabadi Dal and Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh said the poll should be held in early December. Workers Party however said they want the poll as soon as possible.
Responding to the political parties' demand for lifting the state of emergency, the CEC reiterated that the government must lift or relax the emergency regime to create an environment conducive to holding the polls. "We already asked the chief adviser to create an atmosphere where candidates may campaign for votes freely," he added.
In defence of the EC's plan to hold the polls to four city corporations and seven municipalities in April, the CEC said the commission decided to hold polls to some local government bodies as a pilot project, hoping that will boost its confidence.
"But the polls to those local government bodies will in no way hamper the preparations for holding the parliamentary election on time," the CEC said.
Responding to the parties' claim that in the past when democracy was suspended in the country, erstwhile military governments tended to hold local government elections prior to parliamentary elections in a bid to ensure their cohorts' majority in the parliament, Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hussain said, “If the midnight riders lay a siege to us, then we won't be able to do anything!”
Awami League, Jatiya Party (Ershad), and the Communist Party of Bangladesh are scheduled to hold talks with the EC today.

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