The Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is persisting with actions like hartals and blockades as part of their demand for the government's resignation. Simultaneously, law enforcement agencies are making arrest operations, apprehending top BNP leaders one after the other.
Consequently, the political climate is growing increasingly confrontational. Amidst these developments, the Election Commission (EC) is moving forward with plans to announce the schedule for the upcoming national elections. The EC aims to make this announcement by the middle of November.
The EC has been discussing the possibility of holding the 12th parliamentary elections at the beginning of January next year. According to reliable sources, the EC has not yet finalised the exact date for the vote. Nonetheless, preparations are underway based on the assumption that the polls will take place between 6 to 9 January next year. Given the prevailing circumstances, the polling date may be shifted slightly earlier by a few days.
According to the constitution, the next parliament must be elected within 90 days before the expiration of the current parliament's term. The five-year term of the current 11th Parliament is set to conclude on 29 January. This means that the 12th National Assembly must be elected within 90 days prior to this date
According to sources within the EC, they have nearly completed all the preparations for the upcoming election. Most of the electoral equipment has already been dispatched to the district election offices, except for indelible ink and stamp pads.
On Thursday, 9 November, the Chief Election Commissioner and other commissioners are scheduled to meet with President Shahabuddin to brief him on the overall election preparations. The schedule for the election may be announced next week.
Typically, the appointment of the returning officers coincides with the announcement of the election schedule. However, this time, the EC is considering appointing the returning officers a week before the schedule announcement, although there is some difference of opinion within the commission on this matter.
According tosources, the EC is also taking into account the political developments since 28 October. Regardless of the situation, the commission is resolute in its commitment to conduct the election in accordance with the constitution. If necessary, a higher number of law enforcement personnel will be deployed at the polling stations compared to previous elections.
Traditionally, an armed member of the police is present at each polling station, and this number may be increased to two. Moreover, a larger contingent of law enforcement personnel will be on duty outside the polling stations compared to previous elections.
During a recent meeting, the head of a law and order force informed the EC that the police's capacity has significantly improved since 2014, and their technical capabilities have also advanced. The EC has gained insights into the capabilities of various security forces. Additionally, if needed, they plan to deploy law and order forces in the electoral areas for 15 days after the polls.
According to the constitution, the next parliament must be elected within 90 days before the expiration of the current parliament's term. The five-year term of the current 11th Parliament is set to conclude on 29 January. This means that the 12th National Assembly must be elected within 90 days prior to this date.
Jahangir Alam, the Secretary of the Election Commission Secretariat, informed Prothom Alo that preparations for the National Parliament elections are currently underway. The schedule for these elections is expected to be announced in mid-November. However, as of now, the commission has not made a final decision on the exact date for the polls.
Meanwhile, concerns regarding the election environment have grown in recent times. This issue gained prominence during discussions between political parties and the EC on Saturday, 4 November, in the lead-up to the elections.
On that day, the EC invited 43 parties for discussions, but 17 parties, including the BNP, did not participate. Even among the parties that engaged in the discussion, some raised questions about the election environment. Furthermore, there is a sense of unease within the EC itself concerning the ongoing atmosphere of conflict.
Former Election Commissioner M Sakhawat Hossain believes that the pre-election environment this time is more complex than in any previous election. He told to Prothom Alo that the conditions necessary for a free, fair, impartial, and inclusive election have yet to be established. The arrest of leaders and members of a major political party is ongoing, and if BNP decides to boycott the election, the situation may resemble that of 2014 once again.
Ali Riaz suggested that, in reality, the EC may be more focused on creating a parliament according to a constitutional pretence rather than genuinely conducting elections
Despite the less-than-ideal environment, the EC is not considering any options beyond holding the elections. On 31 October, Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal stated this misconception should not persist among the people that elections will not be conducted if the environment is unfavorable. The election will be conducted as scheduled and in the prescribed manner, and the EC is unwavering in this commitment.
The Election Commission aims to achieve a noticeable voter turnout in the upcoming election. Notably, the BNP has not participated in any election under the current commission. However, in various local government elections, particularly in city corporation elections, voter turnout has ranged from 47 to 58 per cent, providing a source of hope for the Commission.
Additionally, some members of the commission believe that political parties participating in the elections will play a role in increasing voter turnout. Furthermore, the Election Commission plans to run campaigns aimed at encouraging voters to participate.
Illinois State University's distinguished professor, Ali Riaz, shared his perspective with Prothom Alo, highlighting that the election process comprises four critical levels: the pre-election situation, campaigning, polling day, and the post-polling situation. According to him, a failure at any one of these levels undermines the credibility of the election.
He emphasised that the EC cannot afford to ignore the pre-election situation, likening it to an ostrich hiding its head in the sand. He pointed out that despite the knowledge of the persecution faced by opposition parties, the EC appears determined to proceed with the elections. As a result, there are doubts about the legitimacy of the election.
Ali Riaz suggested that, in reality, the EC may be more focused on creating a parliament according to a constitutional pretence rather than genuinely conducting elections.
*This report, originally appeared in Prothom Alo Bangla online, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat