CEC for resolving differences as opposition undecided over polls

Staff Correspondent . Dhaka | Update:

Chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda. File photoThe election commission on Thursday announced the schedule for the 11th national elections on 23 December, ignoring reservations from the opposition.

In an address to the nation broadcast on television and radio on Thursday evening, chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda urged all political parties to contest the polls, assuring them of creating a level-playing field.

If there are differences of opinion, the CEC asked the parties to settle the matters politically.

Secretary general of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, in his instant reaction, termed the election schedule an attempt to hold yet another one-sided election.

He, however, did not say if the opposition would boycott the election the way it refrained from contesting the election to 10th parliamentary polls on 5 January, 2014.

Ruling Bangladesh Awami League has already welcomed the election schedule and its workers brought out processions in various places.

All major opposition parties including the BNP boycotted the 2014 elections in which 154 out of 300 members of parliament were elected uncontested.

The country witnessed two more parliamentary polls boycotted by the opposition—in 1996 and in 1988.

The schedule is announced only a day after the opposition coalition of Jatiya Oikya Front comprising BNP and other parties, had ended the second round of talks inconclusive with the ruling Awami League-led 14-party alliance at the prime minister’s official residence on Wednesday.

Oikya Front leaders, at a meeting with election commission on Monday called for deferring announcement of the election schedule until certain outcome of the dialogue was visible.

The Front raised seven-point demand including formation of a poll-time government for holding the election in a free, fair, and credible manner.

So far, four parliamentary polls were held under the non-party caretaker government—in 1991, 1996, 2001 and 2008. The results of those elections were also accepted more or less by major players.

Rejecting the opposition’s major demands, the ruling camp, however, said informal discussion may be held even after announcement of the schedule.

CEC Huda went ahead with the EC’s plan to announce the schedule, making 19 November as the last date for submitting nomination papers.

The last date for scrutiny has been fixed on 22 November and for withdrawal of candidacy on 29 November.

“I request the political parties to show a tolerant, respectful and political attitude towards each other. We expect a competitive election with participation of all parties. I believe, active presence of the campaigners of the candidates in competitive elections can stop irregularities in the electoral process,” the CEC said.

He said the commission would soon issue a circular to ensure level-playing field and the army personnel would be there to help the civil administration.

Huda mentioned that the observers from home and abroad had shown interests on observing the polls.

All the major international observers shunned the 10th national parliament election that was boycotted by BNP and other major political parties which were demonstrating for a neutral election-time government.

The CEC made announcement about using electronic voting machines (EVMs) in some urban areas, despite the opposition’s serious reservation about EVMs.

CEC claimed that a congenial atmosphere has been created for conducting the polls and asked the law enforcers to take stringent measures so that no voters, political leaders-activists, supporters of any part and polling agents face harassment or arrest.

BNP leaders have alleged their leaders and activists are being arrested after being implicated in ‘fictitious cases’ across the country.

They even submitted a list of such cases to the prime minister’s office on 7 November after premier Sheikh Hasina asked them to do so during the talks on 1 November.

The BNP’s Mirza Fakhrul told a Suhrawardy Udyan rally on Tuesday that the opposition would hold a road march towards the commission office should the EC not defer the announcement of the schedule.

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