Demanding immediate hand over of power to an elected government through a free and fair election, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia yesterday said her party will contest in the December 18 poll if the government meets their already announced seven-point demand.
Addressing an immense mass rally in Laldighi Maidan in Chittagong, she blasted the military backed caretaker government saying, “The caretaker government did not create a level playing field. The field has been made quite bumpy for us, while for some other parties it has been levelled … so there can be no game of election on that field.”
The government is saying that it realised BNP’s and its four-party alliance’s demands, but there is still no sign of that, she said adding, but it has been meeting the demands of others one after another.
Khaleda’s appearance at yesterday’s mass rally was her first since the declaration of emergency in January last year.
Thousands of party leaders, activists, supporters and curious citizens attended the rally carrying colourful banners, placards and festoons.
The ralliers started gathering at the venue, Laldighi Maidan, since late morning with processions chanting slogans that translates, ”You go Khaleda, we are with you!”
People who could not get places at the venue got on rooftops of adjacent buildings and even on trees to have a glance of the former premier, who is a leader to an overwhelming number of them.
Khaleda left Chittagong at 8:00pm following the rally after visiting the residences of senior BNP leaders Salauddin Quader Chowdhury, Abdullah Al Noman, Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, and Syed Wahidul Alam.
At the rally she said the government wants ‘a selection in the name of an election’ under the state of emergency.
“Selections are taking place everywhere and the government has chosen its own people for different constituencies. And that is why it doesn’t want to lift the emergency,” she claimed adding, the people are already wondering why the government is still not lifting the emergency.
She alleged although leaders of other parties were released, BNP’s 40 senior leaders are still detained.
She questioned whether that is justice, adding that the government is treating them harshly.
She raised doubts about the chief election commissioner’s neutrality, saying, “Seeing the activities of the chief election commissioner, how could I say that he is neutral, and a free and neutral election is possible under him?”
Khaleda said the people should realise which party the chief election commissioner wants to bring to power when he praises the 1970 election and aspires to hold the next election like that.
“All of it is nothing but deceptions, so what is the point of contesting in such an election?” she questioned adding that the people have already started doubting the current Election Commission.
The government has turned the country into a huge jail, she alleged and said it is often arresting and harassing innocent people by filing false cases.
She demanded repeal of some provisions of the amended Representation of the People Order (RPO) for the sake of a free and fair election.
“If you [the government] are really neutral then address these issues in order to create a congenial atmosphere for the poll,” she said adding that no sign of that has been seen so far, although only a few days are left before the election.
“We want to contest in the election, so create the necessary atmosphere. Four-party alliance will participate in the election if our demands are met,” she declared.
She said BNP and its alliance partners have faith on the people and the people will give them a chance to serve if they get a chance to vote.
“Time has come to recognise who are our enemies and who are our friends, who are working for the country, and want its welfare,” she said.
She also said, “I’ve come here with calls for saving the country’s sovereignty and for restoring democracy.”
The former premier went on to say that the country has been pushed to ‘the brink of destruction’ and she was in the port city to start a process of rebuilding.
“I’ve come here with calls for uniting the people and for forging a movement for restoring people’s rights that have been taken away for the last two years.”
No development and foreign investment have taken place, the economy has been crippled, and the people have been suffering over the last two years, she said alleging that ‘a conspiracy is on to make the country a market for others’.
BNP does not want anarchy and chaos in the country and also does not believe in politics of revenge, she said promising that her party will work for the country hand in hand with the people.
“The country has been pushed back 20 years, so we have to work unitedly for pushing it forward,” she said.
“I’ve been with the people through thick and thin, and am still here and will remain here. I will not flee anywhere, leaving the people and the country in distress.”
Khaleda Zia also said she was detained despite being innocent and before trials.
“Cases were filed against me one after another and I had to languish in prison,” she said.
She went on to say she would not regret the ‘repression’ had the country developed in exchange for that.
“Are you in peace,” she asked the crowd adding, the country is reeling under manifold crises including price hikes of essential commodities and unemployment.
“People are starving and as they have no work… they are passing their days helpless, so I call upon you to unite against the repression, she said adding, “Save the country and the people — that should be the slogan.”
She said a conspiracy is on to make the state look dysfunctional and it will not be safe for the country if the current government remains in power for any longer.
Even Myanmar wants to establish control over the country’s oil and gas reserves due to the absence of an elected government, she added.
The government wasted two years, but did nothing, she alleged saying that the time has come to hand over power to the people through a free and fair election.
Regarding Awami League President Sheikh Hasina’s statement after her return home from abroad, Khaleda said, “Many are now saying the election must be held on December 18, but I would like to ask the government why the January 22, 2007 election was stalled and why the current situation has been created?”
“How safe the country will be in the hands of those who want to destroy the country through creating anarchy using sticks and oars?” she threw the question from the rally.
“The time has come to take a decision and to be united. We have to save the country from them,” she added.
An elected, experienced, competent and responsible government is imperative for the development of the country, and the four-party alliance has the capability and experience, she said adding that they might have made some mistakes, but they also have a track record of great successes.
She said learning from past mistakes and successes they want to move forward and want to rout corruption and terrorism out of the country.
Expressing gratitude to the people for extending their support during her bad times, she said, “You know how my sons, my family and I were tortured, and how efforts were even there to send me and my family abroad.”
“I have no address outside the country. I am here, and will die here,” she said adding, “I did not flee leaving the people in distress and will not leave in future either.”
BNP could not be split even after repeated attempts, rather ‘the agents and betrayers have been isolated’, she said.
BNP leaders and activists joined the rally from twenty three parliamentary constituencies under five districts of the Chittagong division.
Seekers of BNP nominations from different constituencies brought their supporters in large numbers to get the attention of the party chairperson and other high-ups of the party.
Many carried placards demanding release of their leaders who are still in detention.
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