The Jatiya Oikyafront and the BNP-led 20-party alliance have formally announced their decisions to join the upcoming parliamentary election but demanded that the Election Commission defer the December 23 polls by a month.
They argued that if the election date is shifted by a month, it will still be possible to hold the polls within the 90-day constitutional timeframe starting from October 31.
The announcements made at separate press conferences yesterday appear to be a seismic change in the present stance of the two opposition combines, which have been agitating for dissolution of the current parliament before the polls and formation of a neutral polls-time government.
The development came three days after the Election Commission announced the polls schedule fixing December 23 as the voting day.
Both the alliances now want the EC to scrap the schedule announced on November 8 and come up with a fresh one. They said that they decided to join the polls as part of their “ongoing movement to restore democracy” and that they will continue their agitation.
Hours after the two combines' announcements, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir sent a letter to the chief election commissioner with the demand for deferring the polls.
“The current schedule is not acceptable as it was announced hurriedly, ignoring opinion of the majority of political parties,” wrote Fakhrul, also spokesperson of the Oikyafront comprising the BNP and several other opposition parties.
"It is in no way possible for all political parties to file nomination papers [to the returning officers] by completing all related work within such a short time," reads the letter.
According to the current schedule, the last date for filing nomination papers is November 19.
About the demand for deferral of the polls, Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda said, "We will talk about the overall situation tomorrow [today]."
The EC wants a free, fair and participatory election, he told reporters last evening.
Oikyafront insiders told this newspaper that if the EC does not defer the polls, the opposition combine may go on a march towards its office in protest.
Talking to reporters at the AL Dhanmondi office, party's General Secretary Obaidul Quader said his party has no objection if the EC defers the polls.
In another development, the BNP announced that it will start selling nomination forms today. Aspiring candidates can collect forms for Tk 25,000 each from the party's central office today and tomorrow.
Nomination seekers will have to submit their filled-out forms to the central office by November 15, said party's Senior Joint Secretary General Rizvi Ahmed at a press conference.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who was presiding over a meeting of the AL Parliamentary Board, welcomed the two opposition combines' announcement of joining the polls.
Since the 1996 parliamentary election, each of the successive ECs took one month on average to announce the schedule after the start of the 90-day countdown to the national election.
But the current EC announced the schedule only a week after the 90-day countdown began on October 31.
As per the timeframe, the polls must be held on or by January 28.
According to the constitution, the next polls will be held within 90 days before the tenure of the current parliament expires.
If not dissolved earlier, the present parliament will automatically stand dissolved on January 29 on expiry of its five-year term.
In its written statement to the EC yesterday, the Oikyafront said, "Even in case of deferral of the polls by a month, it is possible to hold the election within the tenure of the current parliament."
Asked if the opposition combine changed its stance on dissolution of parliament before the polls, BNP Standing Committee Member Moudud Ahmed said the sentence "it is possible to hold the polls within the tenure of the current parliament" does not mean that the opposition alliance has changed its stance.
"Even if the election is deferred by a month, it is possible to hold it by January 28 with or without the dissolution of parliament," he told this newspaper yesterday.
Several senior leaders of the Oikyafront said they still want to hold further talks with the ruling AL over their demands, including the one on formation of an election-time government.
They said the PM is yet to make things clear about the mode of the polls-time government.
If the AL agrees to sit with them again, they would place an alternative proposal on the formation of the polls-time cabinet led by Hasina.
If Hasina agrees to the proposal, the Oikyafront may propose downsizing her cabinet to 20 or 22 and inducting two of its leaders into the polls-time government as technocrat ministers, according to two top leaders of the opposition combine.
The Oikyafront planned to place the proposal at the second round of parley with the AL-led alliance on November 7. But it could not do so as the PM did not open any discussion on the mode of polls-time government, said the alliance leaders.
They said that though the ruling AL-led alliance rejected their proposal for a non-partisan election-time government, it may not remain rigid this time to avoid holding another one-sided election like the one in 2014.
Talking to this newspaper in the last two days, several top leaders of the Oikyafront said they believe the ruling and the opposition combines will reach a consensus for the sake of holding a participatory election.
Sources in political and diplomatic circles say a discussion between the ruling alliance and opposition leaders has been going on behind the scene to resolve the contentious issues over the polls.