Zia, Hasina may discuss Bangladesh poll postponement

November 13th, 2008 - 12:16 pm ICT by IANS  

Dhaka, Nov 13 (IANS) Bangladesh’s former prime ministers Khaleda Zia and Sheikh Hasina, whose intense rivalry led to the cancellation of parliamentary polls in January last year, may meet to discuss the postponement of the elections scheduled for Dec 18, media reports said Thursday.Zia wants the poll, for which the process has already begun, to be put off by two months. Hasina has indicated that she could at best agree to a 10-day postponement, if that ensures Zia’s participation.

Political analysts say this is a repeat of 2006, when Hasina had boycotted the poll. The resultant standoff between Hasina and Zia had led the caretaker government to call off the election and impose a national emergency.

Now, Zia wants to extract postponement as a price for her participation.

The two women leaders have not met or talked to each other for close to two decades. Critics say their rivalry holds Bangladesh’s politics to ransom.

The idea of them meeting each other, first mooted by Rafiqul Haq - the lawyer who handles both their briefs, has gained public currency and even the diplomatic corps has chipped in to welcome it.

Dutch Ambassador Bea ten Tusscher told mediapersons: “We continue to say that consensus among the parties is necessary. It is up to the top two leaders when and how they want to meet. But it’s always important that the government and opposition work together.”

However, while Hasina wants an agenda for the discussions, Zia says the talks should not be confined to specific subjects, The Daily Star reported Thursday.

“I’m always ready for dialogue, but that ought to be based on an agenda. Problems won’t be solved if we just meet and have a cup of tea,” Hasina-led Awami League’s spokesman Syed Ashraful Islam quoted the former premier as telling the European envoys who met her Tuesday.

Zia-led Bangladesh Nationalist Party’s spokesman Nazrul Islam Khan said his leader had heard about Hasina’s readiness to meet her. “And she wants to let the countrymen know through the media that she too is ready for talks.”

But Khan put a rider: “There’s no need for a specific agenda when the talks will be between two former prime ministers and heads of the top two political parties in the country. She (Zia) thinks discussions won’t be as fruitful as desired if they are

He quoted Zia as saying: “We can talk about the present situation and the upcoming election, and how parliament and the government should function more effectively after the polls.”

“They (Zia and Hasina) will sit for the welfare of this nation. They will discuss the present and future of the country. Any of the two leaders can also take an initiative,” said Khan.

The Daily Star said they might meet on Nov 21 as both have been invited to the Armed Forces Day function.

Zia took a hard position on poll participation after leaders of her ally Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) were jailed and their bail pleas rejected.

On Wednesday, the Dhaka High Court bailed out Zia’s former finance minister Saifur Rahman, JeI chief Motiur Rahman Nizami and JeI secretary general Abdullah Mojahid.

Meanwhile, preparing for the polls, the Election Commission has proposed that armed forces be deployed along with other law enforcement agencies for 20 days from Dec 12 to maintain law and order before and after the polls.

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