All eyes locked on Election Commission before schedule announcement amid opposition blockade

The chief election commissioner will address the nation and declare the schedule live as the country roils in political unrest

Published : 14 Nov 2023, 07:54 PM
Updated : 14 Nov 2023, 07:54 PM

The Election Commission is putting finishing touches to the timeline of parliamentary polls it is going to announce, with the two main political camps of Bangladesh still poles apart on the question of who will be in the government to oversee the vote.

Amid calls by the US for an unconditional dialogue to break the impasse, the ruling Awami League says it may hold talks if the BNP sets no preconditions.

The opposition party, however, sees no point engaging in talks with the Awami League. The BNP has been pressing ahead with its demand for an election-time caretaker government. Talks can be held only if the Awami League agrees to step down, BNP leaders maintain.

On Tuesday, a day before the BNP’s fifth round of transport blockade was set to begin, officials at the EC appeared busy with the last-minute preparations for the announcement of the schedule.

Secretary Md Jahangir Alam, spokesperson for the commission, declined to reveal the details, but said Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal will announce the schedule via live TV and radio broadcast.  

The date and time for the announcement will be declared at 10am on Wednesday.

Sources said CEC Awal is likely to make the announcement later in the day.

Jahangir said the EC does not see any security threat over the BNP’s protests and calls to prevent the announcement of the schedule. “Maintaining law and order is the home ministry’s job. They will take care of the matter,” he said.

The countdown to the election already began on Nov 1 with the constitution stipulating a Jan 29, 2024 deadline.

Following the last general election on Dec 30, 2018, the first session of parliament was held on Jan 30, 2019. Now the voting must be held within 90 days before the end of a government’s term, which is Jan 29, 2024 for the current parliament.

In 2014, the BNP and like-minded parties boycotted the 10th general election over similar demands. But the Awami League was then elected for a second consecutive term amid violence across the country.

Arson attacks targeting vehicles have revived the memories of the deadly opposition protests marked by deadly firebombing of buses before and the after the 2014 polls. 

In 2018, the BNP did partake in the election, but alleged voting rigging. Its MPs resigned last year in protest against the government’s decision to hold power during the polls.

Several political parties called on the Election Commission to suspend the announcement of the election schedule amid such political unrest. But the commission made it clear that though parties hold the right to not participate in the election, the EC must hold the polls on time.

The CEC and four election commissioners met President Mohammed Shahabuddin on Nov 9 to apprise him about the preparations for the election.

After the meeting, the EC said they told the president that they were “determined” to hold the election on time following the prescribed manner as is their constitutional duty.

The Awami League has already begun preparing for the election in full swing.

It has formed a subcommittee that has drafted an election manifesto with the ‘Smart Bangladesh’ theme as envisioned by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina after the government’s ‘Digital Bangladesh’ campaign in its three consecutive terms.

Hasina is heading the party’s election conduction committee, which has 14 subcommittees under it.

“The Awami League is 100 percent ready for the election. We can do it even if the vote is held tomorrow,” said Kazi Zafarullah, a member of the ruling party’s presidum.

Joint General Secretary AFM Bahauddin Nasim said supporters will take out celebratory processions welcoming the schedule once the announcement is made.

Meanwhile, the BNP and some other parties have announced plans to hold protest programmes against the announcement of the schedule.

Most of its top leaders are in jail over violence during the latest round of protests, while some others are in hiding to evade arrest.

“We want a change of power through election, but the government must create an environment for that. If they invite us to contest in the polls after putting our leaders in jail, is it possible for us to do that?” said one of the BNP leaders in hiding.

Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, who has been announcing party programmes, said they will not let the Awami League hold “one-sided elections” again.

The Islami Andolan Bangladesh has planned to march on the Election Commission headquarters on the day the schedule is announced.

“It will bring more conflicts if the schedule is announced without a consensus. If they [EC] take that path, the consequences of defying the public will be bad,” said the party's Joint Secretary General Gazi Ataur Rahman.