Fresh winds have begun blowing from the opposition camp. In a major breakthrough, the BNP and its allies have decided to join the race to parliament, capping five years in the political wilderness after their boycott of the previous nationwide election.
Sunday saw the Jatiya Oikya Front and the BNP-led 20-party alliance announce that they would take part in the upcoming parliamentary election.
The Oikya Front, led by Dr Kamal Hossain, broke the news through an afternoon briefing at the National Press Club on Sunday. The 20-party alliance held a separate press conference around the same time to announce its own decision.
The announcement was doubly significant as the BNP that had previously attached Khaleda Zias freedom from jail as a key condition for the election was conspicuously silent on the issue on Sunday.
Words of the opposition parties joining the race received an immediate public welcome from the ruling Awami League.
Prime Minister and Awami League President Sheikh Hasina has welcomed her political foes to the election slated for Dec 23, a date the opposition parties want to push back.
Hasina said her governments goal is a free, fair and impartial election. The victors will be chosen by the people, she said. Hasina said the participation of all political parties will help build a strong, democratic nation.
BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, another leader of the opposition alliance, made the announcement on behalf of Kamal Hossain and also called for the current election schedule to be scrapped and for the polls to be delayed by a month.
“It is very difficult for the Jatiya Oikya Front to make a decision based on the schedule announced by the Election Commission,” he said.
“But even in these extremely adverse conditions, the Jatiya Oikya Front has agreed to take part in the elections to preserve democracy in the country.”
The alliance is not backing down from its seven-point list of demands, he said.
“We call for the current schedule to be scrapped and a new schedule to be announced for a month later,” Mirza Fakhrul said.
“It will thus still be possible to hold the election within the term of the current parliament.”
According to the constitution, the election must be held by Jan 28.
LDP President Oli Ahmed made the announcement on behalf of the 20-party alliance.
“We trust in the people and so the 20-party alliance, despite the adversity it faces, has decided to participate in the upcoming national parliamentary election as a coalition,” he said. “We are firmly committed to the continuance of democracy.”
“We believe there should be an opportunity for the people to deliver a verdict against the governments corruption, its lawlessness, its failure to return the Teesta waters and its boundless failure to protect the interests of the state. And so we will take part in the election.”
The BNP and six of its affiliate parties have sought the Election Commissions permission to run candidates under the paddy sheaf symbol.
A letter with a request signed by BNPs Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir was delivered to the Election Commission.
The letter requested that candidates from seven parties – the BNP, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Bangladesh Jatiya Party, Khelafat Majlish, the Jatiya Ganatantrik Party, the Bangladesh Muslim League and the Jamiote-Olamaye-Islam Bangladesh – be allowed to use the paddy sheaf symbol in the election.
Oli Ahmed said at the press conference on Sunday that the 20-party alliance hoped that it would come to an agreement with the Jatiya Oikya Front on joint participation in the coming elections.
He also echoed the Oikya Fronts demand for the election to be postponed by a month.
Bangladesh is scheduled to go to the polls on Dec 23. The Election Commissions announcement came despite the Jatiya Oikya Fronts repeated requests not to declare the roadmap before resolving their demands over the election.
The deadline for filing nominations is Nov 19. Returning officers will scrutinise the nomination papers on Nov 22 and the final date for withdrawing candidacy is Nov 29, according to the schedule.
The Oikya Front had pressed for a seven-point list of demands, including the resignation of the government, dissolution of parliament and reformation of the Election Commission.
The Awami League has not agreed to the demands even after sitting with the opposition for dialogue.