Hasina races ahead as Zia battles differences over polls

November 15th, 2008 - 5:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Nov 15 (IANS) As Bangladesh heads for polls Dec 18, former prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League seems to have a headstart in that it has chosen nominees for 281 of the 300 seats in parliament even as a rival alliance is riven with differences on whether to participate in the elections. Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), the country’s largest Islamist party, and “reformists” within its partner Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), are insisting to jump into the poll fray. But Begum Khaleda Zia, who is the immediate past prime minister and leads the BNP, wants them postponed by two to three months, media reports said.

The Daily Star said the Islamists and reformists were desperate, forcing “a whole new polarisation” in the Zia-led alliance.

Reformists are those who broadly endorse the political reforms that the current government sought to introduce while Zia was in jail on graft charges. Zia is known to look upon them with suspicion.

A few BNP leaders known as reformists have said they would take part in the election if it is held as per the announced schedule and if the party does not decide on their return to the party fold soon.

Jamaat insiders said the party is very much interested and ready to take part in the upcoming parliamentary election whenever it is held but the BNP leadership is trying to convince Jamaat leaders against participating.

Jamaat chief Motiur Rahman Nizami, however, said in a statement earlier this week that the alliance would decide on the issue, The Daily Star said Saturday.

For her rival Hasina too, selecting 281 candidates and leaving out 19 seats is only the beginning of an exercise to accommodate nominees of 13 other centrist and left-of-centre parties of an alliance she leads. Generally, it is an intense affair and witnesses a lot of bargaining and horse-trading.

Meanwhile, the talk of talks between the two women leaders has floundered.

Both Awami League and BNP have stuck to their respective stance on the proposed dialogue between their chiefs, the New Age newspaper said.

Awami League wants to have talks on the condition that holding parliamentary elections Dec 18 is the main topic on the agenda while the BNP has questioned the sincerity of the government about holding polls.

“The dialogue won’t bear any fruit if it aims at deferring the general election,” Hasina’s special assistant Hasan Mahmud told the media.

BNP spokesperson Nazrul Islam Khan said: “The dialogue is not a debate that it should be telecast live. The leaders [Hasina and Khaleda] can inform the nation about their discussion either jointly or separately after the talks.”"

Opposing the goverfnment’s role, he said there was hardly any need for involvement of the government in talks.

The last time Hasina and Zia came across each other was on Nov 21, 2006, at a reception hosted by the Armed Forces Division. But they didn’t talk. Speculation is rife the same occasion next week would provide the opportunity for the two to meet and talk.

Save exchanging pleasantries on a few occasions, the two have not talked to each other for the last 17 years.

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