The much-awaited national election to the 12th Parliament of Bangladesh is likely to be rescheduled, and not postponed.

By Saleem Samad

The governing party Awami League’s top leader Obaidul Quader and Minister for Roads and Bridges said on Wednesday that if the election date is rescheduled, his party does not have any objection. But, said subject to holding the election within the timeframe stipulated in the constitution.

However, Quader, General Secretary of Awami League added that the Election Commission has the authority to reschedule the election date and other dates.

There is enough room for an additional two weeks to hold the election.

An Election Commissioner earlier said the national election must be held by 29 January, under the constitution, to avert a potential political volatility akin to anarchy in the country.

Election Commissioner Mohammad Alamgir recently said, “Failure to do so would create a constitutional gap leading to a state of anarchy, which the Election Commission cannot allow.”

The election circus has already begun and the media is abuzz with news and speculative stories of cross-current and undercurrent of negotiating with the principal opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to set aside their ego and participate in the election.

The political reporters cannot fathom the political development behind the curtain.

Hundreds of former bureaucrats, senior police officers, journalists, cricketers, entertainment industry artists, doctors, engineers, educationists, and lawyers have bought nominations for the Awami League.

The Election Commission is willing to reschedule the 12th parliamentary election if the BNP and other parties boycotting the polls officially change their mind and decide to participate in the election, Election Commissioner Rashida Sultana says.

Well, BNP has not responded to rescheduling the election date.

Last week, the BNP announced to boycott of the elections to the 12th parliament arguing that the election would not be free, fair, and credible unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina stepped aside and an interim government to hold the election.

Hasina and her party are in power for the fourth consecutive tenure, thus becoming the longest-serving woman prime minister in the world, which is expected to enter into the Guinness Book of World Records.

However, if the opposition and others join, of course would be described as an inclusive election. The Election Commission would welcome their [opposition] participation, said another Election Commissioner Rashida Sultana.

The government has cracked down on opposition since BNP held a rally on 28 October to showcase strength in the capital Dhaka. The rally abruptly ended after police and ‘golden boys’ attacked the crowd.

Thousands of opposition members and more than a hundred key leaders are languishing in prisons on trumped-up charges for arson, vandalism of public properties, etcetera.

Hasina remarked “BNP is a party of terrorists” for their violent anti-government campaign and said there would be political dialogue with “terrorists”.

BNP has launched countrywide anti-government protests, which have been marked with violence, arson and vandalism.

The protest has led to further arrests of the leaders, party members and sympathisers from all over the country.

On the other hand, Hasina and her party stalwarts hectic negotiations with dissident leaders from BNP and the Islamist party Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) to join newly opened shops.

The Trinomul BNP and Amar Bangladesh (AB) Party formed with dissident leaders who had quit or were kicked out from the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami parties.

The higher court has banned JeI from contesting the election under the party name and election symbol.

A senior journalist Salauddin Babar of pro-JeI newspaper Naya Diganta, who is familiar with JeI’s policy said, the party has not been banned and therefore can continue in politics, except that the party cannot participate in any elections.

He, quickly added that JeI members, if the election is conducive for the party can contest as an independent candidate and also can join a like-minded political coalition and seek nomination from the alliance. There is no bar in doing that, Babar said.

Political historian Mohiuddin Ahmad says the windows have been opened to showcase the Bangladesh election as inclusive, but there is no guarantee that the election will be free, fair and violence-free.

Bangladesh election is riddled with a history of violence and violation since 1973, the first election, two years after the independence of the country, remarked Ahmad.

To assess the ground situation a pre-election Commonwealth mission is presently in Bangladesh.

The US-based International Republican Institute (IRI) and National Democratic Institute (NDI) have applied with the Election Commission for election international election observer credentials.

IRI and NDI will send five technical experts to assess the electoral violence conditions before, during and after the election day. The team is expected to be in Bangladesh for six to eight weeks.

The technical team will assess different types of election violence that occur in Bangladesh, including inter and intra-party violence, violence targeting women and other marginalised groups and communities, online harassment and threats, as well the role of state institutions in addressing these types of violence.

The European Union plans to send election observers for limited assessment before and after the election.

The question is abuzz who will bell the cat? The political observers means, who will convince the BNP to participate in the election.

If BNP joins, the government will have to bend to agree to a long list of pre-conditions, including unconditional release of their leaders and those arrested after police crackdown on 28th October. Drop all charges against opposition members.

The crucial issue is, whether the self-styled supremo Tarique Rahman, living in exile in London for two decades has no understanding of the ground reality, will allow his Dhaka-based acolytes to bargain with the government, when he is adamant not to hold dialogue with the state.

The nation has to wait and see the next round of political development likely to unfold in days to come.

First published in the Northeast News, Guwahati, India, 22 November 2023

Saleem Samad is an award-winning independent journalist based in Bangladesh. A media rights defender with the Reporters Without Borders (@RSF_inter). Recipient of Ashoka Fellowship and Hellman-Hammett Award. He could be reached at; Twitter: @saleemsamad