The majority of Islamist parties want a caretaker government to supervise the next general election, fearing any poll supervised by the incumbent party will not be free and fair.
The demand was repeatedly raised by the Islamist parties during the Election Commission’s (EC) dialogues with 40 registered political parties, which began on August 24 with just over a year before the country goes to the polls.
The EC sits with the parties, the media and eminent citizens before an election and considers their recommendations for organising free and fair polls. Up until Monday, it sat with 22 of the smaller parties.
These included nine Islamist parties which have all demanded the restoration of the non-party election oversight system.
They are: Bangladesh Muslim League, Khelafat Majlish, Bangladesh Islami Front, Islami Andolan Bangladesh, Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, Islamic Front Bangladesh, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Bangladesh, Bangladesh Muslim League, and Bangladesh Khelafat Andolan.
“We want the caretaker provision back since elections held under it in the past were above criticism at local and international levels, and the results were well accepted,” said Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Secretary General Noor Hossain Qasimi as part of his party’s 11-point demands.
“But elections - both local and national - held under partisan governments are controversial.”
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The caretaker system was introduced in 1996 by the BNP-led government after bloody street protests by opposition parties led by the Awami League.
Under this system, a non-party neutral interim government was installed for 90 days after the dissolution of parliament to supervise the general election and hand over power to the next elected government. It was intended to end violence and fraud in the polls.
But it came under fire after the 2007-08 military-backed caretaker government stayed in office beyond its tenure and incarcerated Prime Minister and Awami League President Sheikh Hasina and her arch political rival Khaleda Zia, who leads the opposition BNP.
After winning the 2008 election, the Awami League government abolished the system in 2011 and paved the way for organising elections under the incumbent government.
The BNP and its allies boycotted the most recent election, held in January 2014 under the Sheikh Hasina administration, demanding the provision be restored.
“None of the elections held under partisan governments have been neutral,” said Ahmed Abdul Kader, the secretary general of Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish which has made a similar demand as part of its 32-point proposal.
“There is little chance that the next general election will be free and fair under the incumbent government. In Bangladesh, the partisan government has never proven to be impartial (so) the polls-time government has to be neutral.”
Bangladesh Muslim League in its recommendations proposed dissolving the parliament on the day the EC announces the schedule for the elections, which must be held by early 2019.
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Islami Andolan Bangladesh said it wanted an interim government to supervise the next polls as it would “create a congenial atmosphere for an inclusive election”. It also insisted on the deployment of the army and creation of a level-playing field during the polls.
Bangladesh Khelafat Andolan came up with 38 proposals, including bringing the administration and concerned ministries under the EC during the election.
Mahfuzul Haque, secretary general of Bangladesh Khelafat Majlish, said: “We do not believe that the next general election will be free and fair if the ruling party oversees it.”
There is a constitutional obligation for organising parliamentary polls within the last 90 days of the government’s tenure.
The EC published an initial road map on July 16 and stated it would hold talks with various quarters from July 31. It is scheduled to sit with election observers, women leaders, and election managing experts.
After considering suggestions by the stakeholders, the EC will prepare final recommendation for the polls in December.