Dhaka, Sep 21: Emergency-ridden Bangladesh moved a step forward towards the much-awaited general elections to have a new Parliament and a political government as Chief Advisor of caretaker government Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed on Sunday, Sep 21 announced that the polls would be held on December 18.
Dr Ahmed, who left for New York to attend the UN General Assembly immediately after the announcement of the election date, in a nationwide broadcast said, ''We have embarked upon a journey to handover power to a political government through free, fair, neutral and acceptable elections.'' Political analysts said the announcement of the specific date for the parliamentary elections removed to a large extent the uncertainty hovering over the polls.
The parliamentary elections were originally slated for January 22, 2007 but the bloody political violence between major parties over the polls had forced President Professor Dr Iajuddin Ahmed to promulgate the state of emergency to cool down the volatile situation. The election was also postponed.
Dr Ahmed, who assumed the office on January 11 last year, told the nation that his aim was to handover the power to an elected government to well establish democracy and he never ever deviated from this end.
To clean politics from corruption, the caretaker government cracked down on bigwig politicians including two former Prime Ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina and put them behind the bars on corruption charges.
Consequently, the relation between the government and major parties became sour creating a bit of uncertainty about the general elections.
Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and Hasina's Awami League (AL) had cautioned that they would not participate in the elections unless their leaders were released and the emergency was fully withdrawn.
In view of the stalemate situation, the caretaker government recently took a lenient view towards the arrested leaders and opened protracted behind-the-scene negotiations, which resulted in the release of detained ex-premiers and many top politicians of their parties.
Although the top politicians were released meeting one of the demands of BNP and Awami League, the Chief Advisor in his address did not commit to lift the emergency before the elections.
He, however, categorically assured whatever was needed for holding free and fair elections his government would not hesitate or step back to do it.
Dr Ahmed said necessary rules and regulations of the state of emergency would be relaxed or rescind to facilitate the candidates taking necessary preparations and election campaign so the vote could be held in a lively atmosphere with spontaneous participation of all.
He said the Election Commission was reconstituted, strengthened and made effective and a flawless voters list was prepared registering more than eight crore voters with their photos to hold fair and credible elections free from the influence of black money and muscle power. The political parties made lukewarm response to the Chief Advisor's speech. They appeared happy over the announcement of the specific date for the parliamentary elections but they looked unhappy as there was no firm assurance from the Chief Advisor about the complete lifting of the emergency.
Awami League acting president Zillur Rahman, BNP vice-president MK Anwar and Jamaat-e-Islami acting secretary general Mohammad Qamaruzzaman welcomed the government's decision to hold the parliamentary elections on December 18 but they kept on pressing the full lifting of the emergency to create congenial atmosphere for the elections.
But, the Chief Advisor in his address argued that the lifting of full emergency may deteriorate the law and order situation to such an extent that might jeopardise the healthy election atmosphere and reflection of the people's electoral mandate.
The politicians also opposed the holding of the local government 'Upazila Parishad' (Sub-district Council) elections within seven days of the parliamentary elections.
They said the elections to Upazila Parishad in two phases on December 24 and 28 might create chaos and disturbance before the parliamentary polls.
Earlier, the government and the Election Commission wanted to hold the Upazila Parishad elections before the parliamentary elections which was deadly opposed by major parties including BNP and Awami League.
In view of the political parties' demand the Election Commission now has changed its plan and decided to hold the parliamentary elections first.
Dr Ahmed in his address said the parliamentary elections would be held first to avoid any impediment or confrontation to switchover to the democratic transition and show respect to the request of majority political parties.
Similarly keeping in mind about spontaneous aspiration of the common people about the local government elections, he said the Upazila Parishad elections would be held immediately after the parliamentary elections.
Political analysts here said the caretaker government and political parties needed more talks to reach consensus on the question of full lifting of the state of emergency and further deferment of the dates for the Upazila Parishad elections.