Govt arranging a staged election: Ariful Haque

Ariful Haque Choudhury

Speculations abound in Sylhet city as to whether Ariful Haque Choudhury, elected mayor of the city twice consecutively under BNP nomination, will contest in the election this time. He will clarify his position in this regard at a civic meeting to be held at 3:00pm today, Saturday, at the registry grounds in the city. In an interview with Prothom Alo's Suman Kumar Das, Ariful Haque Choudhury spoke in detail on the overall issue.

Q :

There are speculations that you will actually contest in the election.

My party BNP is not taking part in any election under the present government. Since I am part of the party, I must accept their decision. However, it is also true that people of all walks of life in the city's 42 wards are strongly pressuring me to contest in the election. It is difficult to ignore this pressure too.

Q :

So are you going to contest in the election?

I will clarify this at the civic meeting to be held at the registry grounds.

Q :

BNP isn't joining the election. So as an important leader of the party, why are you shrouding the issue of your candidature in such mystery?

You must not forget that just as I am involved in BNP's politics, I am also an elected representative of the people of this city. So it is my duty to discuss with the people before deciding on whether I will contest in the elections or not. That is why there is this delay in making the announcement. In the meantime, I have discussed the matter with people from all walks of life of the city's wards 42. Now at the civic meeting, I will make my decision public in front of everyone.

Q :

Are you under pressure from BNP not to contest in the election?

The government is arranging a staged election. It's a 'package programme'. The election commission (EC) is a mere puppet in this package. The entire election system has been destroyed. There is no scope any longer for the people to exercise their voting rights, whether by ballot or by EVM.

Q :

And is there any pressure from the government?

There is no need for the government to apply pressure. The local government has basically created such an environment that the candidates and the voters are all apprehensive about a free and fair election. Many of those who have been insisting all these days that I contest in the polls, are requesting me not to contend.

Q :

So are you saying that the conditions are not conducive for the election in Sylhet?

When I called for a civic meeting to inform the people of my decision regarding candidature in the election, police started nabbing BNP men from the very next day. They went to the homes of my workers and supporters, and harassed them. A few days ago they withdrew the ansars deployed for my security, for no reason at all. The police obstructed the civic meeting. They were forced to give permission for the meeting due to my obstinate stance. Out of fear and alarm, they are placing one obstacle after the other in front of me.

Other than that, in violation of the code of conduct, the ruling party members of parliament and government officials have been campaigning extensively for the Awami League candidate even before the election symbols have been alloted. Does the EC not see all this? The local police administration is overly enthusiastic in favour of the Awami League candidate. If this is the situation before I have even announced whether I will contest or not, what will it be like after I make my announcement? Is this any environment for an election?

Q :

So is it more or less confirmed that you aren't contesting?

I will announce this in front of the public at the civic meeting.

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