The election commission's move all of a sudden to hold a dialogue with the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) has given rise to discussion in the political arena. BNP, however, rejected the invitation this time too. The party sticks to its guns that it will not hold any discussion with the election commission. BNP has cleared its stance repeatedly. Why has the election commission invited them despite this? Many have raised questions.
The election commission sent BNP a letter on Thursday. Speaking to Prothom Alo, a senior BNP leader said they are a bit astonished as to why the election commission has invited them although the commission has a clear concept about the stance of BNP. BNP has been assessing whether the election commission has any strategy behind it.
Prothom Alo has contacted three election commissioners, Md Anisur Rahman, Md Alamgir and Md Ahsan Habib Khan, regarding the invitation to BNP all of a sudden. All of them have similar responses. They said BNP has been invited after a discussion in the commission. Such a decision has been taken in an interest of a fair and participatory election.
The election commission held dialogues with registered political parties mid last year. At the time, 27 out of 39 political parties joined the dialogues. Twelve parties including BNP rejected dialogues.
Diplomats of western countries including US have increased their contact with political parties, advocating that the participation of all parties in the election is ensured. Leaders of political parties are meeting the foreign diplomats. Under such circumstances, some sort of pressure is being created on the government and the election commission to bring the opposition party to the election. Many analysts think the election commission wants to show there is an effort to bring BNP in the discussion table.
Under such circumstances, some sort of pressure is being created on the government and the election commission to bring the opposition party to the election. Many analysts think the election commission wants to show there is an effort to bring BNP in the discussion table.
Many BNP leaders believe since there will be no response if the government invites them for dialogue, the election commission has invited them. Maybe the election commission and the government want to show the foreign diplomats that BNP does not want any solution through discussions.
A high level source in BNP said involvement of people in BNP's anti-government movement is increasing. In such a situation, they don't want to be trapped by the government or the election commission. There will be no discussion with the election commission until the demand to hold the election under a neutral government is met.
The election commission, however, said there is no pressure from any quarter to invite BNP. In the letter the commission mentioned informal discussions with BNP. A source in the election commission said BNP along with the representatives of the parties that are in the simultaneous movement can sit for dialogue with the election commission if BNP wants.
Many, however, view the election commission's move to get BNP to sit at least in an informal discussion a 'strategy' of the commission. The election's credibility will be questioned if BNP does not contest. The chief election commissioner and other commissioners in their statements have been saying the possibility of a competitive election will decrease if BNP does not participate in the election. As the election commission realises the matter, it wants to hold discussions with BNP.
BNP didn't join the dialogue in the first phase initiated by this election commission which is at the helm for one year and a month. After that dialogue, the election commission said they would hold dialogues with political parties again. Now if BNP does not join dialogue, the election commission may hold dialogues with different political parties regarding election preparations. It has been learnt that the commission has such a plan.
However, election commissioners Md Anisur Rahman and Md Ahsan Habib Khan said the commission has not held any discussion with BNP. They have invited BNP. The commission said it plans to hold discussions as it wants to to sit with BNP and also hear its criticism. They (EC) think there is nothing for them to do about BNP's political statements about the election-time government system. But the issues of the election commission can be resolved through the discussion. As a result, they have invited BNP for discussions. But BNP has rejected the invitation.
Election commissioner Md Anisur Rahman said they would invite them repeatedly despite BNP's rejection.
Several analysts feel that bringing BNP to the discussion table is a challenge for the election commission.
* This article, published in Prothom Alo print and online editions, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam.