Bangladesh: Talks end, thorny issues unresolved
DHAKA (The Daily Star/ANN) - AL rejects Oikyafront's proposals for neutral polls-time govt, deferment of election, dissolution of parliament but assures all of free, fair election.
The weeklong talks between the ruling alliance and opposition parties ended yesterday, but all the major contentious issues that have created uncertainty ahead of the election remain unsettled.
During the second round of talks with the opposition alliance, Jatiya Oikyafront, the Awami League-led combine outright rejected the former's proposals for formation of a polls-time neutral government led by a chief adviser, dissolution of parliament before the announcement of election schedule and deferment of the election by a month.
The Oikyafront leaders threatened that they would realise their demands if the government refuse to budge. They are also planning a march towards the Election Commission should it announce the election schedule, which is expected today, before the stalemate is over.
At the three-hour discussion at the Gono Bhaban yesterday, which came a week after the first round of dialogue held on November 1, the ruling combine termed the proposals unconstitutional and said there was no scope for going beyond the constitution.
The Oikyafront, an alliance of the BNP and several other opposition parties, had placed the proposals in writing “for the sake of a free, fair and participatory election”.
The proposed model of an election-time government is similar to the now-abolished caretaker government system. Introduced in the constitution in March 1996 amid a political turmoil, the nonpartisan government system was abolished in 2011 despite objections from opposition parties.
The abolished model had several options to choose the chief adviser, and the Oikyafront chose one of them.
According to its proposal, the president, in consultation with political parties and on the basis of consensus among the parties, shall appoint the chief adviser. And in consultation with the chief adviser, the president will appoint 10 advisers.
Individuals, who are not members of any political parties and are eligible to become lawmakers, can be appointed as the chief adviser and other advisers.
The election-time government will carry out routine job only, and will ensure that the election is held in a free, fair, acceptable and participatory manner, according to the proposal obtained by The Daily Star.
Introducing a nonpartisan election-time government will require a constitutional amendment. But under the current constitutional provisions, national election can be held with or without dissolving parliament.
Also, the next election must be held on or before January 28 in line with the constitution. But the Oikyafront wants the election to be held in late February or early March.
'PLEASE DO SOMETHING'
The AL-led 14-party combine rejected the proposal, alleging that it was aimed at bringing a “dark force” to power, according to Oikyafront leaders present in the meeting.
The ruling alliance said the proposal could not be accepted as the Oikyafront did not explain how a polls-time government could be formed after dissolution of the House.
In reply, Dr Kamal Hossain, a top leader of the Oikyafront which also includes Mahmudur Rahman Manna-led Nagorik Oikya and ASM Abdur Rab-led JSD, argued that it could be done in line with constitutional provisions.
"Your assumption is not right. It is possible to find a solution if you have an open mind,” one meeting source quoted Kamal as saying.
He also proposed forming a small committee for holding further talks.
A man holds up a placard urging political parties to be accommodating in front of the Gono Bhaban yesterday during talks between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Jatiya Oikyafront leaders. Photo: Rashed Shumon
But the ruling alliance leaders countered him, saying there was no question of dissolution of parliament.
At one stage, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal President ASM Abdur Rab told Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, "Please do something."
In response, according to multiple meeting sources, the PM said, "I am trying to save the country. I am trying so that the country does not head towards a path of destruction. I am suspicious about your intent. What do you want to achieve by placing such proposals?”
PM'S BRIEFING, OIKYAFRONT'S ROAD MARCH POSTPONED
Briefing reporters after the dialogue, AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader said Oikyafront's proposals could not be accepted as they were unconstitutional.
"If the election is deferred, evil forces may emerge and a 1/11-like situation may return," he said, adding that the weeklong talks with political parties ended with yesterday's talks.
Hasina was scheduled to brief the media today about the outcome of the talks, but the press conference was postponed last night. The Gono Bhaban did not give a new date for the briefing.
In his press briefing following the dialogue, Kamal said they wanted a solution to the current political crisis through discussions. "We want peace and stability. The ball is now in the government's court."
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir also spoke at the briefing at Kamal's Bailey Road residence.
“If the government does not accept our demands, we will realise them through a movement,” he warned.
“We will go to the people…. We want to find a solution through talks. But if the government does not take that path, it will have to shoulder the responsibility,” he said.
In another development, the Oikyafront yesterday postponed its today's road march towards Rajshahi.
From a rally on Tuesday, the new opposition alliance announced the road march should the second round of talks failed to yield any positive results.
However, the Oikyafront will hold its planned public rally in Rajshai tomorrow.
At the press briefing, Fakhrul said he was in favour of more talks.
The EC can always reschedule the election, he added.
Speaking at the same briefing, Manna said they would not like the EC to unveil the polls schedule now. “We will march towards the Election Commission if it announces the schedule before the crisis is over.”
"MOST DEMNADS ACCEPTED"
In the media briefing, Obaidul Quader, also the road transport and bridges minister, claimed that the PM accepted most of the seven demands placed by the Oikyafront, which was floated last month.
As demanded by the Oikyafront, a level-paying field will be created for holding a credible election but nothing will be done going beyond the constitution, he said.
“We have no objection to creating a level-playing field, inviting foreign observers and releasing political prisoners. Our leader Sheikh Hasina assured them of fulfilling these demands. These demands will be fulfilled after the announcement of the election schedule.”
Quoting the PM, Quader said ministers would not enjoy any government benefits after the announcement of the election schedule.
“Lawmakers will have no power. We will enjoy same benefits as Oikyafront leaders and other candidates,” he said.
About Oikyafront's demand for deployment of army with magistracy power, Quader said army would be deployed as a striking force.
Army was never given magistracy power, he added.
Regarding Khaleda's release, Quader said, “If Khaleda Zia is really a political prisoner, then her release in parole will be considered and the law minister was given the necessary instructions in this regard.”
Although the dialogue with political parties have ended, discussions could still continue, he added.