Sunday, September 9, 2007

Political Reform Stalled

It is almost certain that lifting ban on politics in Bangladesh is not going to happen soon. The Army backed Caretaker Government won't lift the ban on politics until a favorable condition is developed to protect its own interest. There's a buzz in Bangla dailys today that proposes a national government under the leadership of Dr. Kamal Hossain. This is an unfortunate situation that the Army is pushing the country on the edge as it's repeatedly trying to dictate political course from the cantonment. Now, the reform talk with the Election Commission is likely to be pushed back.

Daily Star reports,
The government has yet to decide whether to lift the ban on indoor politics or at least relax the curbs when only three days are left to go before the Election Commission's (EC) dialogue on electoral reforms begins.

The political parties that have already been invited are confused about how to go about developing their strategies for the discussions. They cannot meet at party forum to discuss the EC's draft proposals for electoral reforms unless the ban is withdrawn or loosened.

"We cannot seem to have a formal discussion to set our stance on the proposed reforms due to the ban," Abdul Latif Nezami, secretary general of Islami Oikya Jote (IOJ), told The Daily Star yesterday.

The IOJ is scheduled to sit with the commission on September 12, the first day of the much-awaited talks. Nezami said he received the invitation and copy of the draft proposals on August 29.

Contacted, Krishak Sramik Janata League chief Abdul Quader Siddiqui said his party received the invitation last Thursday.

"We don't know if the government will take action against us if we hold a formal meeting to discuss the commission's proposals," he said adding that he has, however, invited the working committee members for tea at his residence on September 10.

"If the government by this time does not decide to allow the political parties to meet formally, then we will discuss the proposals in an informal way," Siddiqui observed.

The Krishak Sramik Janata League has been requested to be present at the EC for discussion on September 16.

The council of advisers to the caretaker government had a meeting yesterday but they did not take any decision in this regard while the home ministry officials waited in vain for instructions regarding restrictions on indoor politics.

The same day Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda told news agency UNB that if the ban does not go by September 11, the dates for the dialogue might need to be rescheduled.

He said the commission would meet the government again to discuss how to remove the roadblocks to the planned talks.

The military-backed interim administration slapped the ban on March 7 amid a state of emergency declared on January 11 prohibiting outdoor political activities.

Law Adviser Mainul Hosein yesterday told The Daily Star that the government is working to relax the restrictions so that the EC can hold its dialogue with the political parties.

"A decision will be there in a day or two," he added.

Senior leaders of the political parties that have already been invited said they have not yet decided whether to opt out of the talks in the event of the ban continuing.

"We will decide a day before the scheduled date whether we will join the dialogue," the IOJ secretary general said. He said they are now waiting for a government decision.

Quader Siddique said his partymen would decide the next course of action.

The EC announced the timetable on August 28 on assurance from the government that the ban would be lifted or relaxed. It has chosen 15 political parties for the dialogue.

Unveiling the schedule, the CEC said the commission would send out invitations in a way that ensures each of the political parties gets at least two weeks' time for preparation.

But the invitees so far--IOJ and Krishak Sramik Janata League--have not had a chance yet to discuss the proposals or determine their approach while time for them to do so runs out fast.

Election Commissioner Muhammed Sohul Hussain yesterday told The Daily Star that the EC still hopes that it would be able to begin the dialogue on schedule.

The poll chief at a meeting with the law adviser on April 4 first asked the government to lift the ban to pave the way for talks with the political parties. Since then, the commission has kept calling for a partial if not a complete withdrawal of the ban to create an environment conducive to holding fruitful discussions.

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