Hurdles to holding polls | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, October 23, 2008 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, October 23, 2008

By The Numbers

Hurdles to holding polls

THE long road towards holding of the ninth parliamentary poll is finally near the destination with the announcement of the poll date. But a smooth ride to the parliamentary polls set for December 18 is still suffused with confusion, as the major political parties have continued bickering on certain electoral issues.
The caretaker government (CTG) and the Election Commission (EC) are out to hold the parliamentary poll under the state of emergency. But the state of emergency, RPO provisions and upazila poll dates are the hurdles towards getting agreement of the political parties for participating in the parliamentary polls.
Though the major political parties have not yet taken any anti-election stand, they have been expressing their doubts and confusion regarding their participation in the parliamentary poll clearly and volubly in many different ways. AL and BNP have now taken a strong stand not to participate in the parliamentary polls if their top leaders are not allowed to contest in the parliamentary poll.
The Awami League-led 14-party combine asked the CTG on October 16 to create a congenial atmosphere for holding the ninth parliamentary polls by releasing its president Sheikh Hasina unconditionally, and also withdrawing the state of emergency.
The BNP-led four-party alliance has placed before the CTG and the EC a five-point demand, including withdrawal of state of emergency and scrapping of the RPO (Amendment) 2008, as condition for participating in the forthcoming parliamentary poll.
The other demands are holding of upazila elections a reasonable time after the national election, withdrawal of the Gatco, Niko and Barapukuria corruption cases and false cases against alliance leaders, and release of all political leaders and activists detained without specific charges.
Things have become seemingly embroiled as a Dhaka court has issued arrest warrants against nine accused in Barapukuria coalmine graft case. They include former BNP ministers M. Saifur Rahman, and Aminul Haque and state minister A.K.M. Mosharraf Hossain and former minister Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojahid of Jamaat .
The court also directed BNP chairperson and former prime minister Begum Khaleda Zia, Jamaat-e-Islami Ameer Motiur Rahman Nizami, former BNP ministers Abdul Mannan Bhuiya, M. Shamsul Islam and M.K. Anwar, now on bail in the case, to appear before it. Begum Zia appeared before the court on October 16. Meanwhile, the High Court has stayed the proceedings of the case against Begum Zia for three months.
The BNP-led alliance is quite unhappy with this development. BNP Secretary General Khondker Delwar Hossain firmly said on October 11 that no election would be acceptable to the people as well as to the international community without the participation of the party chairperson Khaleda Zia.
Expressing doubts over holding of the parliamentary poll on December 18, the acting president of AL, Zillur Rahman, said on October 17 that the spirit of 1/11 political changeover was defeated and a deep rooted conspiracy was being hatched concerning the ninth parliamentary polls. Zillur made the remarks while speaking to Jubo League leaders at his residence.
The UK State Minister for Asia, Africa and the UN, Lord Mark Malloch Brown, said that everybody understood that the state of emergency should be lifted before the polls, and urged political parties and the CTG to resolve the issues through a pre-poll consensus.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to arrive in Dhaka on November 1 or 2 to observe first-hand the build-up to the December 18 parliamentary poll. An advance team for the UNSG's visit is already in Dhaka. An AL delegation told the UN team that AL would not take part in the forthcoming polls if its president Sheikh Hasina was not released unconditionally.
The European Union appears to have made sending of poll observers conditional to lifting of emergency. EU usually does not send its poll observers to a country under emergency rule. It may not send its Election Observer Mission to Dhaka if it is not convinced of the CTG's measures for holding of a free and fair election.
The demand for lifting of emergency is becoming increasingly shrill, not only from the political parties but also from the donors, as, according to them, no free and fair election is possible under the state of emergency. On the other hand, the Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahemed told a British parliamentary delegation that the state of emergency was part of Bangladesh's constitution, not any extra-constitutional measure, and it was not affecting the common people.
The chief adviser's argument that the state of emergency would help restrict infiltration of black money and muscle power in the electoral process bears some merit. It is also true that, while many of the fundamental rights remain suspended under emergency rules, it is against the sprit of free, fair and credible elections.
The CTG has announced another round of dialogues with the political parties in order to remove all these hurdles. This dialogue is crucial if the CTG really wants to pay heed to what the political leaders are saying. Politics always stresses on dialogues and compromise, keeping national interest above all other matters.
The major political parties, including AL and BNP, which are likely to join this last round of dialogues have stressed the need for removing the hurdles, and demanded that the CTG should create a congenial atmosphere for a free and fair poll. The CTG must change its rigid attitude that has thrown the electoral process into uncertainty.
The long-stalled ninth parliamentary election is certainly the most crucial one in our checkered political history. But the latest complications in the run-up to the polls are really worrying the people, as they wholeheartedly believe that return of power to an elected government is the only solution to all their miseries.
The stakeholders should remember that if the all-important election becomes uncertain due to their bickering, it will surely invite a tragedy of sweeping proportions for the nation. Therefore, to avoid an inevitable unrest, the CTG, the EC and the parties involved must act promptly to remove all the hurdles to holding the ninth parliamentary poll in a peaceful manner acceptable to all.

A.N.M. Nurul Haque is a columnist for The Daily Star.

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