Oct. 19: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed has proposed an all-party interim government to oversee the upcoming parliamentary elections, tossing the ball into her rival Khaleda Zia’s court, but the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led Opposition had not accepted or rejected the suggestion till late tonight.
The BNP has been demanding that the polls be held under a non-partisan caretaker government. Hasina’s proposal was an attempt to break the deadlock.
“Our aim is free and fair polls. So, I am proposing to the Opposition party that you can send names from your members of the parliament whom we can include in the cabinet to form an all-party government for an interim period,” Hasina said during a 22-minute televised address to the nation yesterday.
“I am urging the leader of the Opposition that she will respond to my call and keep my request,” she added, in what appeared to be an olive branch to Khaleda.
Under Bangladesh’s parliamentary system, the House must be dissolved at the end of its current five-year term on October 25. The general election has to be held within three months.
The trigger behind the current standoff is an amendment Hasina brought in June 2011 to eliminate the constitutional requirement for the government to resign in favour of a non-partisan government to conduct the elections. The BNP-led, 18-party Opposition coalition has been demanding that the caretaker government provision be restored.
Despite requests from the US, the UK, China and the European Union urging the battling Begums to reach a compromise through dialogue, the ruling and the Opposition parties have failed to resolve their differences. Hasina’s proposal has come against this backdrop.
“We believe the PM has put across some positive signals around which an ambience for a dialogue can be built,” an editorial in Daily Star, the leading mainstream English newspaper in Bangladesh, observed, welcoming the proposal.
Some members of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industries also welcomed Hasina’s proposal, calling it “a step in the right direction”.
“We are all businessmen and we don’t want uncertainty…. We want the elections to be held in a non-confrontational environment,” said an FBCCI member.
Till late this evening, the BNP, which has threatened to boycott any election held under a government or interim administration led by Hasina, had not come up with any formal response.
Immediately after Hasina’s televised address last evening, BNP acting secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir had said there was nothing new in the proposal.
“Our standing committee will meet tonight to analyse the proposal in detail…. Tomorrow the leaders of the 18-party coalition will meet,” Maruf Kamal Khan, Khaleda’s press secretary, told The Telegraph.
In a late-night report, news portal BDNews24.Com said the BNP leadership had decided to announce its decision after tomorrow’s meeting of the 18-party Opposition alliance. Sources in the combine, however, said the BNP was unlikely to accept Hasina’s proposal, as it was silent on some key points such as the size of the cabinet, its scope and who would head the interim all-party government.
The Jamaat-e-Islami, a key member of the BNP-led alliance, has rejected the proposal and it’s a clear indication of the BNP’s possible reaction, said Shahriar Kabir, filmmaker and rights activist.
“The hardliners in the Jamaat will not allow the BNP leaders to accept Hasina’s proposal…. The Jamaat leaders, many of whom are accused of war crimes, don’t want election. They want a state of anarchy,” said Kabir, who has done extensive research on war crimes during the liberation war.
In this atmosphere of uncertainty, Dhaka Metropolitan Police today imposed an indefinite ban on meetings and processions in the Dhaka metropolitan area from 6am tomorrow, five days ahead of a proposed rally by the BNP-led combine to demand restoration of the caretaker system.
Tomorrow, the BNP will stage protests across the country against the ban, except in Dhaka.
A significant majority of Bangladesh’s civil society is, however, opposed to caretaker governments because of past experience, when army officers got involved in the exercise. “We don’t want a repetition of what happened in 2008, when the caretaker government formed to see through the election didn’t want to relinquish power…. We need to move forward and set up a credible system to choose our government,” Kabir said.