'We are not satisfied'
After years of rejection, the BNP – the major political opposition in the country – finally had a chance on Thursday to have a dialogue with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who is also the president of BNP’s arch-rival Awami League, as a major element of newly formed political alliance Jatiya Oikya Front.
However, the dialogue has apparently brought nothing fruitful for the party, which has been out of parliament for a decade.
“We are not satisfied,” was the only comment made by BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir after the meeting between Awami League-led 14-Party Alliance and Jatiya Oikya Front ended in the prime minister’s official residence, Ganabhaban.
Fakhrul, who just sat beside Dr Kamal Hossain – who led the 20-member delegation of Oikya Front – had not expressed much optimism regarding the dialogue’s outcome before the meeting either.
Earlier in the day, during a token hunger strike observed by BNP leaders and activists across the country demanding the release of party chief Khaleda Zia from jail, Mirza Fakhrul – while addressing protesters in Dhaka – said their party would free their chairperson, and realize their demands for a fair and credible election under a non-partisan administration, through a movement.
“We want a fair election in which people will elect a government of their choice. But the government is making the situation complicated. Our leader’s [Khaleda] punishment has been enhanced, but she said she would not bow down, no matter how much punishment she is given,” the BNP spokesperson said.
BNP Standing Committee member Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain also termed the dialogue a way of “trapping” the party, saying the election could not be held if their seven-point demand was not met.
Speaking to reporters after last night’s dialogue, Awami League General Secretary and Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader made it clear that Oikya Front’s demands for the resignation of the incumbent government, dissolution of parliament, and release of political prisoners including Khaleda Zia had not been entertained.
About Khaleda’s release, Quader said: “It is a matter of law, a matter of court. This dialogue is not related to the matters of court.”
Regarding the dissolution of parliament, Quader said the invitation letter handed over to Oikya Front clearly said the discussion would cover matters that are constitutional.
“It was clearly stated. We cannot go beyond the constitution,” he said, adding that holding a neutral election was the Election Commission’s responsibility.
Regarding the use of electronic voting machines (EVMs) in the upcoming general election, Quader said the Awami League made it clear that it stands behind the Election Commission’s decision to use EVMs, which will be on a limited scale in the general polls.
Regarding the withdrawal of political cases, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina asked Mirza Fakhrul to hand over a list of the cases in question for further consideration.
Regarding the deployment of army with magistracy power, Quader said Hasina had questioned Kamal Hossain as to why he was making such a demand, when it had never been implemented in the past general elections – except in 2001, when the election was held under a caretaker government.
The ruling party chief, however, agreed to two of Oikya Front’s demands: ensuring level-playing field for all during the election, and allowing foreign observers to monitor the election.
Awami League Law Secretary SM Rezaul Karim said when BNP’s proposal for election-time government was placed during the dialogue, the prime minister made it clear that there was no scope for going beyond the constitution.
“The BNP also asked to postpone the election and the announcement of election schedule, but the Election Commission is a constitutional body, and there is no way to interfere in their activities,” Rezaul further said.
Meanwhile, when asked about the meeting’s outcome during the post-dialogue press briefing at Dr Kamal Hossain’s residence, BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul asked: “Can anyone get everything whenever they want?
“We requested to postpone the announcement of election schedule, but the prime minister said the Election Commission would decide on that,” he added.
Regarding Khaleda’s release from jail, he said there had been no specific answer from the other side.