A High Court ruling yesterday apparently dealt a blow to BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia's bid to contest the December 30 polls as it rejected five applications seeking suspension or a stay on conviction and sentences.
The applications were filed by five BNP leaders, including AZM Zahid Hossain, who wanted a stay or suspension so that they can contest the upcoming election.
While delivering the order, the bench of Justice Md Nazrul Islam Talukder and Justice KM Hafizul Alam said a person sentenced to more than two years in jail cannot contest any election unless five years have passed after serving the sentence even if an appeal against the conviction is pending.
This means Khaleda, now in jail after being convicted and sentenced to 17 years in jail in two graft cases, may not be allowed to contest the upcoming election.
A clearer picture of the former prime minister's participation in the polls could emerge following a hearing on a stay petition at the Supreme Court today.
Zahid, a leader of pro-BNP Doctors' Association of Bangladesh, who was convicted and sentenced to 13 years' imprisonment in a corruption case, filed the petition immediately after the HC passed the order yesterday.
The petition was included as “item no-4” in today's cause list of the SC for hearing.
Zahid's lawyer Ahsanul Karim told The Daily Star that in the past, the Indian Supreme Court suspended conviction and jail sentences of some people and allowed them to contest elections there.
Khairul Alam Chowdhury, another counsel for the BNP leader, said his client in the petition also challenged the HC order that rejected his application seeking suspension of his conviction and sentence.
Citing from the stay petition, Kahirul mentioned that it would not be unconstitutional if Zahid's conviction and sentence are suspended, as the HC had earlier said that there is a fair chance of his getting acquittal in the appeal in the case against him.
In yesterday's order, the HC said that if a person is convicted and sentenced to more than two years by a trial court in any case, he or she cannot be eligible to take part in elections unless a “competent court” scraps the conviction and sentence.
It also observed that there is no provision in the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) for suspending a conviction.
The HC cited Article 66 (2)(d) of the constitution while rejecting the applications of the five BNP leaders.
Article 66 (2)(d) stipulates, “A person shall be disqualified for election as, or for being, a member of parliament who has been, on conviction for a criminal offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.”
Following the HC order, Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told reporters at his office that in his opinion, the BNP chief cannot contest the election for the next five years even if the Supreme Court scraps her convictions and sentences now.
He said the five convicted BNP leaders, who moved the petitions before the HC, cannot be allowed to contest the parliamentary election as no “competent court” has scrapped their convictions and sentences.
Asked about the eligibility of Awami League leader Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya, who was acquitted by the HC recently in a graft case, for contesting the polls, Mahbubey said he did not know what arguments were placed at the HC hearing in his case.
On October 8 this year, the HC acquitted Maya, also disaster management and relief minister, scrapping the lower court verdict in the case filed by the ACC during the rule of the military-backed caretaker government.
ACC lawyer Khurshid Alam Khan told this correspondent that following the HC order, Khaleda as well as other convicts, who were sentenced to more than two years in jail by trial courts, cannot contest the upcoming general election.
Apart from Zahid, the four convicted BNP leaders are former state minister and BNP chairperson's adviser Aman Ullah Aman, Khagrachhari district BNP president and former lawmaker Wadud Bhuiyan, Jhenidah BNP president and former Jhenidah-2 MP Md Mashiur Rahman, and ex-Jhenidah-1 lawmaker Md Abdul Wahhab.
Trial courts convicted and sentenced them for eight to 20 years in jail in corruption cases filed by the Anti-Corruption Commission.
In reaction to the HC order, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir said, "We think this order has reflected the government's will."
He was talking to journalists at the BNP chief's Gulshan office before heading for his home district Thakurgaon, reports UNB.
“The High Court order ahead of the national election will undoubtedly raise many questions in the public mind. It was passed so that the BNP chief cannot join the election.
"We strongly condemn and protest it,” he added.