Bangladesh: EC set to unveil election schedule today

DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - AL, allies back the move, Oikyafront opposes

The Election Commission announces the schedule for the 11th parliamentary polls today amid support from the ruling Awami League and strong opposition from Jatiya Oikyafront, comprising the BNP and several other parties.

The opposition alliance yesterday threatened a road march towards the commission if the schedule was unveiled without a solution to the current crisis over how to hold the election.

Since its inception on October 13, the Oikyafront has been pressing the government to dissolve parliament and hold the polls under a non-party election-time government. The alliance and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina held talks twice since November 1 in this regard.

The government, however, has rejected the demands, terming them unconstitutional. It insists that the election should be held under it in line with the constitution. 

Meanwhile, main opposition in parliament Jatiya Party led United National Alliance yesterday requested the commission to announce the schedule right away.

The EC seems to be in an unusual hurry to announce the schedule. It is all set to unveil it just eight days after the 90-day countdown for holding the polls began on October 31.

None of the four previous ECs had come up with polls schedule in such haste since the June 1996 polls. After the beginning of the countdown, each of the past ECs had taken one month on average to announce the schedule.

CEC TO ADDRESS NATION

In an address to the nation, Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda is all set to announce the schedule at 7:00pm, an EC press release said yesterday.

The speech would be broadcast on the state-run Bangladesh Television (BTV) and Bangladesh Betar as well as on other private television channels and radio stations. 

“We have completed all preparations for announcing the schedule,” EC Secretary Helaluddin Ahmed told reporters at his office yesterday evening. “Law enforcers will face every situation centring the announcement.”

He made the comments hours after BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Alamgir Islam, at a press briefing on Bailey Road, threatened to hold a march toward the EC if it unveiled the schedule. Fakhrul said Oikyafront would go on with its movement until its demands were met.

However, the AL supported the EC move to announce the schedule.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's Political Adviser HT Imam said only the EC had the right to make decisions on the schedule and the government would always support it.

“The government fully supports the Election Commission's decision of announcing the election schedule on November 8 [today]," he said yesterday afternoon following a dialogue with the election commissioners.

"Whenever they fix the date for holding the election, we will accept it," added Imam, also co-chair of Awami League Election Steering Committee, who led a 17-member AL delegation at the talks.

He also said the government and his party also agreed with the commission about its decision to use electronic voting machines in the polls on a limited scale.

Asked about deploying army with magistracy power, he said army was used as a striking force during the 2008 and 2014 general polls.

The veteran AL leader then criticised the Oikyafront for what he said was misbehaving with the commission during their dialogue.

He hoped that all political parties, including the BNP, would join the upcoming polls.

Following another dialogue between a delegation from the United National Alliance and the election commissioners yesterday morning, Jatiya Party Secretary General Ruhul Amin Howladar said there was no scope for delaying the announcement of schedule.

“There won't be any dialogue after today [Wednesday]. We told the EC not to delay any further and unveil the election schedule tomorrow,” he told reporters.

He said their team placed several demands, including prevention of the use of muscle power and black money, deployment of army as striking force, seizure of illegal arms and review of the plan to use EVMs during polling, for a free and fair election.

The UNA team was led by party Chairman HM Ershad.

Earlier on November 5, Jatiya Oikyafront held talks with the EC and demanded that the schedule not be announced before the end of the ongoing talks between Hasina and different political parties.

Meanwhile, Left Democratic Alliance (LDA) yesterday in a letter also requested the CEC not to announce the election schedule before talks ended.

On the other hand, the EC yesterday asked the authorities concerned to send nomination forms and other materials to field level today.

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