Bangladesh’s election commission began on Sunday a second round of talks with political parties aimed at setting the stage for a national vote this year, while one major party struggled to bridge internal differences.
The election would put Bangladesh back on the road to democracy after an army-backed interim authority imposed emergency rule at the beginning of 2007. Those who met commission officials for talks were Bikalpa Dhara (alternative stream) made up of breakaways from major parties and the small left-wing Bangladesh Samajbadi Dal, both hoping for a berth in parliament in polls expected around year-end.
Sunday’s discussions were part of a second round of talks with dozens of parties including the Awami League led by detained former prime minister Sheikh Hasina. The Awami League is due to see the commission on Monday.
But a meeting with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)of another detained former prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, has not been scheduled yet, as the party tries to end internal feuds and restore unity.
“We shall wait (to invite the BNP until they come up as one group and under a unified leadership,” one election official said at the weekend. Hasina and Khaleda, who alternated as Bangladesh prime ministers for 15 years to October 2006, have been in detention from June and September last year respectively, facing charges of corruption. Both are being tried by special courts under emergency rule and if convicted would likely be barred from contesting the election, legal experts say.
The commission is trying to set a series of new election regulations to curtail lavish spending on the poll by candidates, register the parties and bar corrupt people from entering the race. It is also preparing a new voters roll with photographs to avert rigging and the buying of voters with “black money”, officials said.
The interim authority running the government since January 2007 has vowed to hold parliamentary elections before end of 2008. One election commissioner said on Sunday they would try to hold the vote after October, by when voter IDs would be ready.
But the commission said it could not roll out a final plan for the poll without talking to the BNP, one of the two biggest parties. “(But) we cannot wait indefinitely for the election just because of the BNP ... though we would very much like it in the race,” said senior Awami League leader Tofayel Ahmed.
The delay caused by the BNP’s absence in the talks has sparked some concern about holding the election on time. But Chief Election Commissioner ATM Shamsul Huda said on Sunday “there is no doubt about holding the poll as per the roadmap (by December 2008).” Huda also expressed hope of holding local elections before the parliamentary vote “to build people’s confidence in the election process and in the election commission”.