Dialogue between Bangladesh’s ruling party and opposition evokes mixed response

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina (C) sits in a dialogue with opposition party in Dhaka on November 1, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 02 November 2018
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Dialogue between Bangladesh’s ruling party and opposition evokes mixed response

  • The dialogue was held in the run-up the general election of the country, which is scheduled to take place in next month.
  • The four-party Oikya Front pressed for 7 demands.

DHAKA: Thursday’s dialogue between the ruling alliance of 14 parties led by the Awami League and the Oikya Front, the new opposition alliance, received a mixed reception in Bangladesh’s political circles. The dialogue was held in the run-up the general election of the country, which is scheduled to take place in next month.
Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, secretary general of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), which is a key player in the front, said, “We are not satisfied with how the talks went.” However, his close ally, the front leader and Gonoforum President, Dr. Kamal Hossain, said, “We have placed our demands and the Prime Minister will inform us about her final decision later.”
Obaidul Quader, the general secretary of ruling Awami League and the second in command of the party, quoted the Prime Minister, saying, “The door is open and we can sit again later.”
The four-party Oikya Front pressed for 7 demands, which included: The formation of non-partisan election period government, the resignation of the incumbent government and dissolution of the parliament; the release of political prisoners, including BNP chairwoman Khaleda Zia, and the withdrawal of false cases filed against political activists; the reformation of the Election Commission and the abandonment of the Electronic Voting Machine for this election, ensuring a level playing field for all political parties; and the deployment of army during the election, to allow the foreign and domestic observers to witness the election process.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina immediately agreed on the two points regarding ensuring the level playing field for all political parties and the presence of foreign election observers.
S.M. Rejaul Karim, Legal Affairs Secretary of the ruling Awami League, said to Arab News, “We had the discussion in a very congenial and cordial environment. The Prime Minister has accepted the issue of a ensuring level playing field and the presence of international election observers during the election, and I think it was a fruitful discussion.”
During the meeting Prime Minister assured the opposition that her government will facilitate the election commission in every way to hold a free, fair and inclusive election, said Karim.
“After the meeting I strongly believe that the opposition will get much more confidence and take part in the upcoming election. As a result the country will experience an election with festivity in a democratic environment,” opined Karim.
However the opposition alliance leader Dr. Kamal said, “The prime minister gave a long speech. But we didn’t find any specific solution there, except for some positive comments about holding rallies and meetings.”
BNP secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam said his party will continue the street protests to achieve their demands.
Islam and his party were disappointed that the PM rejected their demand for the release of Khaleda Zia. She had said that the government could do nothing since it’s a legal matter. Hasina also said that her government did not file the cases against Zia.
Dr. Ataur Rahman, a renowned political scientist and teacher of Dhaka University, said to Arab News, “Although it is not completely satisfying the dialogue has opened the door for the opposition parties and they have got assurances that some of the demands will be fulfilled. Now the opposition should wait and watch the situation.”
He analyzed it as a “wheeling and dealing” situation where both the parties will try to win the maximum gain. “I think in the coming days there will be few more surprises in the political arena till the submission of nomination papers for the election race,” added Rahman.
Kashem Humayun, a veteran journalist and managing editor of Bangla Daily Sangbad, says to Arab News, “Government can’t do anything contrary to the constitution and the situation in this term is quite different from the last election held in 2014. I believe that the main opposition BNP will take part in the election.”
He added: “If any change is required in the constitution that should be done in parliament, and for that reason also BNP should join the election race.”


US push to delay Afghan presidential poll receives mixed reaction from Kabul

In this Nov. 6, 2018, photo, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, listens during a news conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, at the presidential palace, in Kabul, Afghanistan. (AP)
Updated 44 min 9 sec ago
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US push to delay Afghan presidential poll receives mixed reaction from Kabul

  • Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process

KABUL: A US newspaper report that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering asking the Afghan government to postpone the presidential election has drawn backing from some in Afghanistan’s political quarters, while others have criticized it.
The report comes amid speculation that the presidential poll will be delayed and that instead an interim government will be formed involving the Taliban leaders in a effort to end the 17-year-long conflict.
It comes after last month’s long-delayed and chaotic parliamentary elections and the renewed US efforts for peace talks which involved the appointment of special US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
Khalilzad in recent weeks has spoken with leaders of the regional powers, Taliban emissaries and the Afghan government as well as regional strongmen, some of whom fear that the outcome of presidential poll in a fractured government at this time may push the country into deeper chaos.
On Tuesday, citing US officials, The Wall Street Journal reported that Washington was looking into postponing the vote.
“The possibility of such a step, one of several options being considered by US officials, is a sign of the urgency the administration sees in trying to broker a political breakthrough in a conflict that has bedeviled three successive American presidents,” The Wall Street Journal said.
The current administration of the joint National Unity Government (NUG), where the power is shared by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah, was formed as a result of allegedly rigged polls held in 2014.
Public frustration has mounted over the NUG’s failure to curb the crime rate, alleviate poverty and stop the deadly attacks by militants in the past four years.
Some politicians push for formation of an interim government, while others, including former President Hamid Karzai, deem the convocation of a traditional assembly, known as Loya Jirga, as a solution for the political and security crisis the country faces.
Officials close to Ghani, who is standing for re-election in the April 20 vote, said the poll will have to take place.
“Afghanistan is a democracy and any transfer of power has to be done through a democratic process. Any other proposal that runs contrary to the Afghan constitution and people will not be acceptable to our people,” Fazel Fazly, an adviser to Ghani, said.
Abdullah, following the Wall Street Journal report, met on Tuesday with the US Ambassador to Kabul, John R. Bass. Abdullah in a tweet said he discussed the parliamentary and presidential elections with Bass, who told him that “the upcoming presidential election will take place on time.”
Later in the day, Bass said the US was helping Afghans to hold the elections based on the time stipulated, but added that the Afghans themselves can choose the time
for it.
“We remain committed to helping the electoral commissions and the Afghan government to prepare for the presidential elections in April 2019. Timing of the Afghan election is for the Afghans to decide,” he said in a statement. Bashir Bezhen, a lawmaker in President Ghani’s government, argued that delaying the polls goes against the constitution and it will damage the credibility of the US as well.
“This issue (the US option for delaying polls) is in violation of the constitution and it will also be a blow to US prestige because Afghanistan’s fate has its impact on the US as it has been fighting here for over 17 years,” he told Arab News.
However, he said there is no guarantee that a proper time will come that can pave the way for fair elections.
“We do not have the hope for a democratic, free, transparent election under this government and the current situation, but to hope that things will get better is a merely a dream.”
He said if the election is not held on time, then one solution would be an interim government or convocation of Loya Jirga and either way, Ghani will lose.
“Ghani is keen to hold the poll so he can win by fraudulently stuffing the ballot boxes. We feel worried about the future both if the election is held or delayed, but we have to know... what will happen if the polls are not held.”
Mohammad Nateqi, a politician, former diplomat and member of the government-appointed High Peace Council, said delaying the poll is necessary if it can lead to peace with the Taliban.
“If an interim administration or postponing of the election can help a comprehensive peace process, then it (delaying the poll) will not be a problem,” he said.