Bangladesh will hold the much-awaited general elections on January 7, the chief election commissioner announced on Wednesday, amidst violent protests by the Opposition BNP and its allies demanding a non-party interim government to conduct transparent polls.
Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal announced the dates of the elections during an address to the nation that was telecast live – the first such announcement in the history of Bangladesh.
“The 12th Jatiya Sansad (parliamentary) elections will be held on January 7, 2024 (Sunday),” he announced shortly after a meeting with four commissioners of the constitutionally independent commission.
Awal said the last day to submit nomination papers will be November 30 and scrutiny of nomination papers will be from December 1 to December 4.
The last date for withdrawal of candidature is December 17. The election body will allot election symbols to candidates on December 18.
Awal also said the election campaign will run from December 18 to January 5, 2024 midnight.
He said a smooth election required a congenial atmosphere but “for a long time there were differences of opinion among political leadership on the question of election, particularly over the institutional method of the polling”.
In a veiled reference to the main opposition BNP and its allies, Awal said his office invited all registered political parties who were “reluctant” to take part in the upcoming polls to hold dialogue with the Commission but “they rejected the invitation”.
“There could likely be differences of opinion in a multi-party democracy. But if the differences cause clashes and violence that could adversely affect the election process, consensus and solution is needed,” the CEC said.
The election commission chief called upon all political parties to shun the path of “conflict and violence” and “seek a solution” and added that his office would always welcome spontaneous participation and contest of all poetical parties in the polls.
“It is not impossible to find a consensus and solution through dialogues, discarding mutual sense of revenge, distrust and lack of confidence (among the parties),” Awal said.
But he asked the voters to exercise their franchise freely in an enthusiastic atmosphere, discarding all worries, tensions and unease.
The CEC ordered law enforcement agencies to ensure the security of polling centres alongside candidates, voters, election officials and people in general.
Ahead of the announcement of the poll date, Bangladeshi authorities on Wednesday enforced a tight security vigil in the capital and other major cities.
The announcement of dates came amid mounting political tensions as Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and its far-right allies like the Jamaat-e-Islami have waged a street campaign demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government to allow a non-party interim government to conduct the general elections.
The ruling Awami League has dismissed the demand, saying elections will be held under premier Hasina, who also rejected proposals for dialogue with the Opposition by the US and other major Western countries, calling BNP a terrorist organisation.
The ruling Awami League workers welcomed the announcement and brought out separate processions in different parts of the national capital.
“We welcome the announcement on behalf of Awami League…our election journey starts with the announcement,” Awami League general secretary Obaidul Quader told reporters.
“The train has started its journey. It will not halt for anybody,” he said.
BNP, however, rejected the schedule with its highest policy-making standing committee member Moyeen Khan calling it a “unilateral announcement” and manifestation of the ruling Awami League’s preference for a one-party system.
“It is possible that they (Awami League) can carry on their despotic rule in this manner by using brute force, but they can never win the hearts of the democracy-loving people of Bangladesh by usurping their rights of the franchise,” he told the Daily Star newspaper.
BNP’s joint secretary-general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi said that the country has been pushed towards conflict. “The country is headed for a certain conflict.” BNP’s ally Liberal Democratic Front chairman Oli Ahmed said the announcement threw the people into a “burning furnace” and urged people to turn around to restore their voting rights and save the country.
Jatiya Party, technically the main Opposition in parliament in BNP’s absence, said it was still hopeful about a political solution even after the announcement of the polls schedule.
“Still there is time (for a political settlement) despite the announcement of the schedule,” Jatiya Party’s secretary general Mujibul Haq Chunnnu said.
Police on Wednesday warned of stern action against arson attacks or any such act of sabotage as the Opposition began the fifth phase of its nationwide transport blockade to spearhead its campaign against the Hasina-led government.
“We have taken all steps to ensure security,” Dhaka’s police commissioner Habibur Rahman told reporters.
Since October 28, the opposition parties have been enforcing transport blockades and clashing with police and rival activists in support of their demand.
The political violence in the last two weeks killed at least five people, including a policeman. Over 200 people were wounded and dozens of vehicles, mostly empty buses, were damaged or set on fire during the protests, prompting authorities to deploy paramilitary troops to guard highways and maintain law and order in major cities.
According to media reports, some 8,000 opposition leaders and activists, including BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, have been arrested in a nationwide crackdown.
The government leaders have said that the opposition leaders and activists were not arrested for political reasons, but for their involvement in “criminal activities”.
But the BNP said the Awami League government has turned the country into a “big prison”.
Major Western countries, including the United States, have called for a political settlement ahead of elections through dialogue among three major parties – Awami League, BNP and Jatiya Party.
(This report has been published as part of the auto-generated syndicate wire feed. Apart from the headline, no editing has been done in the copy by ABP Live.)