The Election Commission on Thursday announced the schedule for the 11th parliamentary elections fixing December 23 as the polling day despite protests from opposition parties for no announcement of the schedule before any political consensus on the polls.
Chief election commissioner KM Nurul Huda announced the polls schedule in an address to the nation aired by Bangladesh Television and Bangladesh Betar and other private television and radio stations.
The schedule also fixed November 19 as the deadline for the submission of nomination papers, November 20 for the scrutiny of the nomination papers and November 22 as the deadline for the withdrawal of the candidature.
The chief election commissioner announced that the aspirants might submit their nomination papers directly or online for the first time.
He said that electronic voting machines would be used in the general election in some polling stations in urban areas to be selected at random.
In the dialogue the commission hosted in 2017, 35 of the 40 registered parties, including the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, opposed the use of EVMs in the 11th parliamentary elections.
Five registered parties, the ruling Awami League, its allies the Workers Party of Bangladesh, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal faction led by Hasanul Haq Inu and the Bangladesher Samyabadi Dal (M-L) and the Zaker Party were in favour of using EVMs.
Urging all political parties to participate in the elections to uphold the continuation of democratic practices and development and requested them to politically resolve differences of opinion, if any.
He requested the political parties to behave with patience, honour and political attitude with each other.
Seeking a competitive election, he said that the competition should not be turned into violence or vengeance.
In an instant reaction, main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir alleged that the commission announced the schedule at the government’s will to hold ‘a unilateral election’.
He said that the announcement did not reflect the will of the people.
The ruling Awami League brought out processions at places across the country hailing the schedule.
Prior to announcement of the schedule, law enforcement agencies beefed up security measures across the country to avoid any untoward incident.
The chief election commissioner urged the political leaders and activists not to breach the electoral code of conduct.
He ordered the law enforcement agencies to check violation of the electrical code of conduct.
He asked the law enforcement agencies to ensure that none of the voters, political leaders and activists, candidates, their supporters and agents faced harassment or cases without reason.
A level playing field would be ensured, he said, adding that a gazette notification would be issued soon in this regard.
He said that the commission primarily completed appointment of about seven lakh officials to conduct the election and judicial and executive magistrates would be appointed in all the electoral areas.
He said that over six lakh members of law enforcement agencies, including the Police, Border Guard Bangladesh, Rapid Action Battalion, Coast Guard and Ansar and Village Defence Party, would be deployed in the elections.
Legal actions would be taken against election officials for any failure to discharge duty properly hampering the elections, he warned.
Although many political parties, including the main opposition BNP, demanded deployment of army with magistracy, the chief election commissioner announced that the armed forces would be deployed in ‘Aid to the Civil Power.’
He ‘expected, requested and demanded’ that the candidates and their supporters would go by the electoral laws and code of conduct, voters would cast their vote freely and independently for their favourite candidates and local elites and elected representatives would help to ensure election-friendly environment in the polling stations.
The chief election commissioner asked the polling agents not to leave the polling station without taking the election results.
He said that they had constitutional obligation to hold the general election by January 28, 2019 and the election countdown began on October 31, 2018.
The purchase of election materials and printing is about to complete, he said.
He said that the commission in 2017 prepared an action plan, including reform of the electoral
law and preparation of the electoral rolls, and had presented the action plan to the 40 registered political parties, civil society, mass media representatives, election observation agencies, election experts and leaders of women’s organisations.
He said that their acceptable recommendations and suggestions were implemented.
Selection of about 40,000 polling stations was completed and applications for registration of 75 political parties were disposed of, he said.
He expected that the commission would be able to hold a free, fair, neutral and acceptable election.
Launched on October 13, opposition political alliance Jatiya Oikya Front led by Dr Kamal Hossain continued pressing for seven-point demand, including dissolution of parliament, resignation of the government, reconstitution of the EC through discussion and release of BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia and all other political prisoners from jails.
On Monday, leaders of the front during a heated exchange urged the commission not to announce the schedule until the outcome of the dialogue between the ruling alliance and the front was visible. The dialogue concluded on Wednesday without any political consensus.
On November 4, election commissioner Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury told a press conference that the commission decided to announce the polls schedule on November 8 considering everything.
Delegations of the ruling Awami League, the Jatiya Party-led Sammilita Jatiya Jote and the Bikalpa Dhara Bangladesh-led Jukta Front demanded not to defer the announcement of the polls schedule.
The tenure of the 10th parliament would expire on January 28, as it went into the first session on January 29, 2014.
The 10th parliamentary elections were held on January 5, 2014, amid boycott by all opposition parties, including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, demanding restoration of non-party election-time caretaker government system.
According to commission officials, 10,41,42,381 voters have registered to cast their vote.
In the 10th parliamentary election held on January 5, 2014 the number of voters was 9,19,65,167.
They said that the commission had approved an estimated budget of Tk 700 crore for the 11th parliamentary elections.
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