A Bangladeshi opposition coalition on Tuesday slammed the Election Commission’s decision to postpone nationwide polls until Dec. 30, saying the move to hold the vote during the Christian holiday season was a ploy to dodge international scrutiny.
Election officials announced on Monday that the parliamentary election had been rescheduled from the original Dec. 23 balloting, partly heeding calls from an alliance of opposition parties that it be given more time to campaign.
“Dec. 25 is the biggest religious festival of the Christian community. Foreign observers, ambassadors of different countries, high commissioners and officials will be on holiday for Christmas and the English New Year,” Ruhul Kabir Rizvi, secretary-general of the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), said during a news conference in Dhaka.
“The Election Commission has set Dec. 30 as the election date according to the government's instructions so that foreign observers cannot be present,” Rizvi said, as he reiterated the opposition’s demand to further reschedule the nation’s 11th general election, giving them more time to campaign.
“According to our previous demands, the election must be delayed by one month. The schedule has to be announced again,” he said. “All political parties have to be given equal opportunities for election campaigning.”
But K.M. Nurul Huda, chief of the Election Commission, ruled out the possibility of deferring the voting date again, citing insufficient time to adhere to a constitutional requirement that a new parliament must be formed by Jan. 29.
“We don’t have enough time as we will have to publish the gazette after getting the results from all 300 constituencies, which is time consuming,” he said
Huda explained that officials had decided on Dec. 30 to avoid a conflict with forthcoming religious events that require deployment of security forces, such as the annual gathering of Muslims known as Bishwa Ijtema, which would take place on Jan. 11 in the outskirts of Dhaka.
The Christian community had also requested that election officials avoid setting the election date immediately before or after the Christmas season. “We’ve considered that as well,” he said.
Obaidul Quader, secretary-general of the ruling Awami League, dismissed the opposition’s demand to reschedule the polls further in order to facilitate the arrival of foreign election observers, describing such reasoning as “funny, illogical and unrealistic.”
“A country can’t defer its election just because foreign observers would fail to monitor it,” Quader told reporters. “There are many countries that are friends of Bangladesh and our country is not inferior to anyone in respect to dignity.”
He also vowed to resist any efforts from the BNP and its allies to wage any protest movement demanding the election’s deferment.
The general election will decide if Sheikh Hasina, 71, will get a fourth term as prime minister. She first served as prime minister from 1996-2001 and was elected again in December 2008.
Hasina regained power in 2014 after BNP and its 20 coalition partners boycotted the general election in protest of the ruling party’s refusal to cede the reins of government to a caretaker administration during that year’s voting season. As a result, more than half of the parliamentary seats were uncontested, allowing Hasina to appoint her supporters.
The opposition’s focus on the election date came after it announced last Sunday that it would participate in the polls despite the government rejection of a list of demands, including the abolition of parliament. The ruling party described those demands as unconstitutional.
Political analysts said they saw no legal barrier that would prevent the election commission from delaying the voting further.
“The commission got an opportunity to restore people’s confidence in it by deferring the election to mid-January. There is no legal barrier to it. But they missed the opportunity again by delaying the election only for a week,” Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of Transparency International Bangladesh, told BenarNews.