Next nat'l election on Jan 7
The 12th general election will be on January 7, the Election Commission announced yesterday amid escalating tension between the major political parties over the polls-time government.
The BNP and its like-minded parties rejected the schedule and warned that they would not let the election take place. The BNP attempted to do the same in 2014 polls in which 153 Awami League lawmakers got elected with no competition whatsoever.
The Awami League hailed the announcement and took out processions at places in the capital and other parts of the country.
Political analysts and observers fear uncertainty and escalation of violence as the AL and the BNP have been sticking to their guns. The AL wants the election to be held with this government in power while the BNP wants the resignation of the government and election under a non-partisan administration.
"As the political parties have not reached a consensus yet, a fearsome and confrontational situation is prevailing. It is surely not helpful in ensuring a level-playing field for all parties," former election commissioner Brig Gen (retd) M Sakhawat Hossain told The Daily Star.
Sakhawat doubts the EC would be able to hold the polls properly amid this situation.
The EC Secretariat had to be guarded like a fort yesterday, he pointed out.
The number of political parties not likely to join the race is getting larger than that of 2014 polls, he said.
Unveiling the polls fixture yesterday, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal called upon all political parties to join the election.
"We believe the upcoming polls will be free and fair, impartial, participatory, and peaceful with all stakeholders behaving responsibly. The election will be credible and praised at home and abroad," he said in a televised address to the nation in the evening.
Prior to his speech, the EC finalised the schedule at a meeting.
The announcement of the schedule comes at a time when the BNP and Jamaat are enforcing blockades demanding the AL government's resignation, reconstitution of the EC, and polls under a caretaker government.
Political unrest is harming people's livelihoods and businesses, according to reports.
The police have ordered all its units to be on high alert to prevent any untoward incident while teams of border guards and Rab were deployed across the country yesterday.
The schedule was announced two weeks after the 90-day countdown for the end to the current parliament's tenure began on November 1. According to the constitution, the polls must be held within the final 90 days of a parliament's tenure, which in this case ends on January 29.
In his speech yesterday, Awal said holding an election is a massive, difficult, and complex job. With assistance from the government, the EC will work honestly and sincierly to make it free, fair, and peaceful.
He urged all political parties and candidates to abide by the electoral code of conduct.
Ballot box snatching, casting fake votes, voting in exchange for money, and the use of muscle can influence an election and people should thwart all these at any cost, he said.
He said the role of the media and election observers is noteworthy in ensuring transparency and neutrality.
The EC strongly supports media freedom but any attempt to influence the voting process or the election by disseminating false or fabricated information will be thwarted, he said, adding, "Therefore, we sincerely request the cooperation of local and foreign media and observers."
The CEC also called upon voters to go to the polling stations with enthusiasm, courage, and confidence. He also urged them to exercise their voting rights freely to elect their preferred candidates and fulfil their civic duty of forming the parliament and the government.
"Don't be influenced by anyone," he said, adding "If you face any kind of interference or obstacle, you will resist it individually or collectively. If needed, inform the presiding officer."
The presiding officers are legally bound to ensure the right to vote at any cost, he added.
The EC yesterday appointed two divisional commissioners and 64 deputy commissioners as returning officers (ROs), and 592 upazila nirbahi officers, other government officials, and upazila-level EC officials as assistant returning officers (AROs).
The divisional commissioners were appointed as ROs of the constituencies in Dhaka and Chattogram cities.
With the announcement of the election schedule, the electoral code of conduct came into effect yesterday.
The EC is likely to issue directives today asking all aspiring candidates to remove their posters, placards, banners, and billboards from public spaces within a certain period.
The February 15, 1996, election was boycotted by the AL, which demanded polls under a caretaker government. The BNP won, but was forced to call snap elections under a caretaker government in June that year.
All opposition parties, including the BNP, boycotted the January 5, 2014, polls demanding election under a caretaker government. The AL won with a two-thirds majority.
All major parties took part in the polls held on December 30, 2018.