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Dhaka City Polls: Protesters win as EC shifts polling day to Feb 1

  • Published at 10:07 pm January 18th, 2020
DU Protest
File photo: Students of Dhaka University observe hunger strike demanding rescheduling of Dhaka city polls, at the base of Raju Memorial on Friday, January 17, 2020 Dhaka Tribune

On the same day, the government deferred the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and equivalent examinations to February 3, paving the way for the new date of the city elections

Amid the growing demand for deferring the January 30 Dhaka city corporation elections, which coincide with the Saraswati Puja, the Election Commission has been compelled to reschedule the date. The elections will now be held on February 1. 

The decision came at an emergency meeting at the EC headquarters at Agargaon in Dhaka, in the presence of election commissioners and returning officers for Dhaka south and north city corporations on Saturday. 

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) KM Nurul Huda chaired the meeting for nearly four hours from 4pm, before deciding on the polls’ deferral around 8 pm.

On the same day, the government deferred the Secondary School Certificate (SSC) and equivalent examinations to February 3, paving the way for the new date of the city elections.

The examinations were scheduled to commence on February 1. 

After the meeting at the Election Commission, the CEC told reporters that the EC had been in touch with the Education Ministry on a shifting of the polls schedule. 

“The ministry duly changed the exam routine,” he said.

The CEC further said: "We have made such a decision so that no religious sentiments are hurt."

Even on Wednesday, the commission said it was all set to hold the polls on January 30 and there was no scope to reschedule it. 

Saturday’s development came hours after 31 organisations linked to the minority communities declared that they would go on a weeklong countrywide protest from Monday over the polls rescheduling demand. 

The organisations, including Bangladesh Hindu Buddha Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC), announced the programme at a press conference at Paltan in the city, reports UNB. 

During the period, they will stage demonstrations, form human chains, observe hunger strike and blockade across the country for two hours on Monday, and will continue various programmes till January 27.

On January 24, they will hold a daylong mass sit-in programme.

Prof Dr Neem Chandra Bhowmick, who presided over the meeting, said fresh programmes would be announced on January 28 if the polls date was not changed.

Every year, Saraswati Puja is held at educational institutions as Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge and learning. 

However, polling stations will be set up at different educational institutions in the city during the polls, which many feared would hamper the Saraswati Puja celebrations.  

Different quarters, including the Hindu community, have been demanding the deferment of the elections to the two corporations since the Election Commission announced the date on December 22 last year.

Leaders of Bangladesh Jatiyo Hindu Mohajote, a platform of the Hindu community, on Friday urged their voters not to cast ballots if their demand was not met. If needed, they would consider boycotting the polls, the leaders said.  

Even heavyweight mayoral candidates, including those endorsed by the ruling Awami League and the BNP, called for a rescheduling of the election so that the Hindu community could smoothly celebrate Saraswati Puja.

On Friday, Awami League Secretary General Obaidul Quader said the ruling party would not object if the election was rescheduled. 

Meanwhile, a group of Dhaka University (DU) students continued their fast-unto-death for the third consecutive day on Saturday demanding a deferment of the polls.

Of them, five fell sick at the protest venue, Raju Memorial, raising the number of students becoming ill to 15. On Friday, at least 10 students fell sick at the same venue. Later, four of them were hospitalised.   

A group of DU students, led by Vice President of Jagannath Hall Students' Union Utpal Biswas and General Secretary Kajal Das, went on hunger strike on the DU campus on Thursday afternoon.

Dhaka University Vice Chancellor Prof M Akhtaruzzman expressed solidarity with the students on Friday and said the students' demand was logical.  

Earlier, BHBCUC General Secretary Advocate Rana Dasgupta warned that the elections on January 30 would be resisted as Saraswati Puja fell on the same day.

The Election Commission announced the date on December 22 last year.

Besides, an appeal was filed on Thursday with the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court challenging the High Court order that turned down a writ petition seeking deferment of the January 30 elections. 

The Supreme Court chamber judge is likely to hold a hearing on the appeal on Sunday, said apex court lawyer Ashoke Kumar Ghosh, also the petitioner.