The Election Commission on Wednesday announced the schedule for the 12th parliamentary election, fixing January 7 as the polling day, ignoring the protests and calls from opposition parties to not announce it before a political consensus on the poll-time government was reached.
The ruling Awami League welcomed the polls schedule, while the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies and most other opposition parties rejected it.
Over 12,000 leaders and activists of the BNP, including party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, standing committee members Mirza Abbas and Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, were arrested a little over two weeks before the announcement of the schedule, and the party headquarters at Naya Paltan in Dhaka was put under lock and key following the police foiling of an opposition grand rally in Dhaka on October 28.
Chief election commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal announced the polls schedule in an address to the nation, televised live by Bangladesh Television and Bangladesh Betar, among others.
The schedule fixed November 30 as the deadline for the submission of nomination papers, December 1 to 4 for the scrutiny of nomination papers, and December 17 as the last date for the withdrawal of candidature.
In his address to the nation, Awal called on all parties to find a solution to their differences through dialogue.
‘I humbly request all the political parties on behalf of the Election Commission to avoid conflict and violence and look for amicable solutions,’ he said.
The ruling Awami League-backed student body Bangladesh Chhatra League holds a rally at the TSC roundabout on Dhaka University campus welcoming the national election schedule, Wednesday evening. — New Age photo
‘Reconciliation and resolution through dialogue avoiding mutual revenge, mistrust, and mistrust is not impossible,’ Awal said, adding that EC would welcome the spontaneous participation and competition of all parties in the election.
The commission declared the polls schedule at a time when various local and international groups, including the United States, were urging the government, the Election Commission, and other stakeholders to engage in a dialogue to resolve the ongoing political crisis.
The main opposition BNP and its alliance are observing a countrywide blockade programme to realise their demand for the resignation of the ruling Awami League in favour of a party-neutral caretaker government to conduct a free and fair election.
Some other political parties and alliances, including the Left Democratic Alliance, a coalition of six left parties, and faith-based Islami Andolon Bangladesh, were also urging the EC not to announce the polls schedule without settling the political differences over the poll-time government.
The CEC said that elections could be fair, free, impartial, and participatory only through the concerted cooperation and participation of all parties concerned in the process.
‘If the political parties are inspired by the democratic spirit and contest the elections effectively by fielding candidates, balance is established at the centre, and elections become more fair and meaningful. It also reflects public opinion more clearly. The election process is progressively integrated and sustainable. Democratic culture flourishes,’ he said.
Awal said that all candidates and political parties participating in the elections should follow the code of conduct.
‘All officers engaged in electoral duties must also perform their assigned duties with honesty and devotion by properly understanding, upholding, and applying the laws and regulations,’ he said, adding that the commission had implemented and continued to implement various training programmes to familiarise officials with electoral laws and regulations.
The law enforcement agencies must ensure the overall security of candidates, voters, election officials, and the general public, including the mutual discipline of polling stations, he said.
He added that fake votes, vote rigging, ballot rigging, the use of money, and the possible use of muscle power could influence elections.
‘The government has repeatedly expressed its clear commitment to making the upcoming parliamentary elections fair, free, impartial, participatory, and peaceful. The commission will also discharge its duties with honesty, integrity, and sincerity to the best of its ability and by taking all necessary assistance from the government to make the upcoming election free, fair, and peaceful,’ he added.
He urged people to come to the polling station and cast their votes without fear or discomfort.
In an instant reaction, BNP senior joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi alleged that the commission announced the schedule at the government’s will to hold a unilateral election.’
Rejecting the schedule, he said at a virtual press conference that the CEC had played a joke on the nation by announcing the polls schedule.
‘His [CEC] language mirrors that of the prime minister. The election will not take place. It will not be allowed to take place,’ he said.
The ruling Awami League brought out processions at places across the country, welcoming the schedule.
The LDA announced an eight-hour nationwide hartal protesting at the announcement of the polls schedule.
The police stop a procession of the Ganatantra Mancha protesting at the general election schedule, at Purana Paltan in the capital Wednesday evening. — New Age photo
Hours before the announcement of the schedule, IAB brought out a procession from the Purana Paltan area towards the EC, demanding not to announce the schedule before police blocked them in the Shantinagar area.
Before the announcement of the schedule, security was beefed up across the country to avoid any untoward incidents.
The CEC said in his address that the selection of about 42,000 polling stations was completed.
According to commission officials, 11.97 crore voters have registered to cast their vote.
In the 11th parliamentary election held on December 30, 2018, the number of voters was 10,41,90,480.
The BNP and its allies boycotted the 2014 election over concerns about its fairness, paving the way for the Awami League to retain power with 153 candidates of the ruling party getting elected unopposed in the polls.
In 2018, despite the BNP’s participation, the ruling party secured more than 95 per cent of the parliamentary seats amid widespread allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing by police on the night before the voting day.
The US and some developed countries are pressing the government to ensure a free, fair, and participatory election this time.