The BNP-led four-party alliance is using religion as a political weapon–violating the electoral code of conduct–to force the caretaker government and Election Commission (EC) to reschedule the December 18 parliamentary polls, said legal experts.
The alliance’s demand for rescheduling the polls so that hajj pilgrims can cast their votes is a clear violation of the electoral code of conduct, which restricts registered parties and candidates to using religion for political or election purpose, they said.
While an election commissioner told The Daily Star this requesting anonymity, Ghulam Rabbani, former judge of the Appellate Division, also said the electoral code of conduct says no propaganda should be made in favour of a particular party or candidate in election invoking the religious sentiment.
”So, saying the date of election fixed by the Election Commission would not allow the hajis to cast their votes would infuriate voters of the families of those hajis and thereby would fetch their votes in favour of that party,” Justice Rabbani said.
The electoral law experts said the four-party alliance is discriminating against religions by speaking only for Muslims performing hajj this year. The party has not said anything about any non-Muslim voters staying outside the country during the polls, they said.
According to a provision stipulated in the Representation of the People Order, a registered political party cannot discriminate against religions, they added.
On Monday, BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the caretaker government to meet the alliance’s four-point demand, including rescheduling of the parliamentary election so that hajis do not miss it, to ensure its participation in the polls.
A registered political party may be fined up to Tk 50,000 for violating the code of conduct, which took effect on September 18 for the ninth parliamentary election and will remain effective until the election results are published in official gazettes.
However, the EC has remained silent over the matter.
The commission rather collected information of hajj pilgrims from the religious affairs ministry yesterday to see when they return home from Saudi Arabia, EC sources said.
According to ministry information, 48,876 hajis are performing hajj this year but the EC is not sure how many of them are voters.
The total number of these hajj pilgrims is just .06 percent of total voters.
According to records, a far greater number of votes were invalid in the previous two polls–4,49,082 in the eighth parliamentary polls in 2001 and 4,62,302 in the seventh parliamentary polls in 1996.
On receiving the list of hajj pilgrims, the EC held a meeting around 12:30pm and discussed the existing political situation centring the election.
In the afternoon, the commission met the chief adviser.
The hajj will be held on or around December 8 subject to sighting of the moon.
The last two hajj flights of Biman Bangladesh Airlines and Saudi Airlines leave Dhaka on December 2 and 4. The return flights are scheduled between December 13 and January 2.
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