Bumpy ride on electoral highway
AS things stand, the country is set to go through an electoral process to vote for an elected government to run its affairs for next five years. "The country is already on the highway of election," said education and commerce adviser Hossian Zillur Rahman after holding the latest round of dialogue with the major political parties.
But a smooth ride to the parliamentary election set for December 18 is still suffused with confusion, as the major political parties have continued bickering on certain electoral issues, principal among them being the withdrawal of the state of emergency. The caretaker government (CTG) and the Election Commission (EC) are out to hold the parliamentary election under the state of emergency despite objections raised by major political parties. Though the major political parties haven't taken any anti-election stand, they have been pressing the CTG hard for complete withdrawal of the state of emergency.
The demands placed by BNP and Awami League (AL) in the latest round of dialogues with the CTG on October 23 were much the same -- total lifting of the state of emergency, ensuring participation of their two top leaders in election, and deferral of the upazila elections. The politicians have cast doubt on the CTG's sincerity about creating a conductive atmosphere for fair and participatory election, as these issues still remain unresolved.
The EC has announced the detailed schedule for the December 18 parliamentary election and the third upazila elections on November 2, after the High Court had dismissed three writ petitions filed challenging the gazette notification of July 2008 on demarcation of electoral constituencies.
But the EC has failed to finish registering political parties by the promised deadline that ended on October 30. The EC had issued registration certificate to only one political party -- Liberal Democratic Party -- till November 2 and completed the process for awarding certificates to 13 other political parties including AL, BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami.
The EC has got an authentic voter list with photographs. It has procured 240,000 translucent ballot boxes through a UNDP project, which is expected to prevent many of the past electoral malpractices. It has also finalised the list of 34,000 polling stations across the country and trained the deputy commissioners as part of its preparations for election. These are positive developments for holding the upcoming election in a neutral and credible manner.
The AL and some other left-linked political parties have welcomed the announcement of the election schedules but stressed that the state of emergency must be totally lifted to create a conducive atmosphere for election. They have also reiterated their demand for deferring upazila election to a rational time to give political parties a breathing space between two elections.
The BNP-led four-party alliance is yet to comment on the election schedules. The decision on whether the alliance will contest in the election is likely to come after the chiefs of the components meet on November 5 to finalise the issue.
In a meeting with the visiting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the BNP leaders said that, as a pro-election party, it wanted to contest in the election but an atmosphere conducive to holding a credible election had not been created, as the CTG had not met any of its seven demands.
Smelling a rat in keeping the state of emergency during the parliamentary election, the BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia said that the CTG wanted selection in the name of election. She has instructed the party leaders and the activists to strengthen their organisations and get ready for both movement and election.
The BNP chairperson demanded resignation of the election commissioners, claiming that they were not neutral and could never hold a free and fair election. Though there is hardly any reason to agree with this rationale, the CTG should not dismiss the accusation as "personal frustrations" of Khaleda Zia.
The CTG should seriously try to find out if there is any genuine reason for calling the EC's neutrality into question. The CTG needs to remember that there is no last word in politics, and that the election seen as most important in the country's history may lose acceptability if any of the major political camps keeps away from the election.
The AL kicked off its preparations for the forthcoming parliamentary election on October 26 with finalisation of its draft policy to seek names of the possible candidates from its grassroots level committees. But things have become seemingly entangled, as the Supreme Court has denied bail to AL president Sheikh Hasina in an extortion case, putting her release in limbo before the parliamentary election.
The acting AL president Zillur Rahman regretted terming the outcome of the October 23 dialogue with the CTG as "positive." He categorically said that the AL would not contest the upcoming parliamentary election without Sheikh Hasina.
Sheikh Hasina, now abroad on parole for treatment, has vowed to contest the parliamentary election despite the higher court's denial of her bail. After playing a cat and mouse game for a long time, the CTG finally declared that there were no bars for Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia in contesting the ninth parliamentary election.
Almost all election-related activities of AL have remained suspended due to absence of Sheikh Hasina, who is likely to return home this month.
Dispelling doubts about her contesting in the election, the BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia recently told newsmen: "Certainly I shall take part in the election. Where is the obstruction to my taking part?"
The country's development partners and the bilateral donors are also keeping a close watch on the developments towards holding of the election, which is seen as very crucial for the country. The USA, the European Commission and the Commonwealth will send observers to monitor the election.
As things stand now, with the ninth parliamentary election just around the corner and no sign of any election fever in the country, the political parties should backtrack on their demand for a total lifting of state of emergency and move full steam ahead towards election. Any unforeseen development may disrupt the electoral process and invite a tragedy of sweeping proportions for the nation.