Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal has said that the Election Commission (EC) cannot stop violence during the polls and called on the political parties to take responsibility.
"Stand with rifles if someone stands with a sword," the CEC said during the EC's dialogue with the Nationalist Democratic Movement (NDM) on Sunday (17 July).
A 9-member team of NDM led by its chairman Bobby Hajjaj joined the meeting.
"You will go to the field, and play. We are referees. We have many powers," CEC Kazi Habibul Awal said to the political parties.
Following the CEC's remarks, NDM Chairman Bobby Hajjaj said, "The law does not permit us to stand with shotguns."
"We want to make it clear that the responsibility of the 2014 and 2018 elections should not be put on us. We will take responsibility for the election under us," CEC Kazi Habibul Awal said addressing the representatives of NDM.
Kazi Habibul Awal called on all the political parties to join the upcoming parliamentary election. He said if the government does not help, the situation after the elections may go bad.
"We have said many times before that it is very necessary for all political parties to participate in the elections, especially the major parties. No party can be forced to participate in elections. However, we will repeatedly call on all parties to participate effectively. We will continue that effort," the CEC said on Sunday in his opening speech.
CEC called on all parties through the media to actively participate in the election.
"If there is no competition in the election, there is no accurate reflection of public opinion. The active participation and competition of the parties in the elections held at the field level can largely control the possible irregularities, rigging, corruption, the influence of money and muscle power," he added.
"The Election Commission wants to conduct elections with the participation, cooperation and support of all. Otherwise our efforts to hold free and fair elections, however sincere, may end in failure. That is not desirable," he further said.
"Bangladesh is constitutionally a multi-party democratic republic. There is no constitutional bar to a single party winning 300 seats to form a government. But history says that democracy will die soon in that case," said the CEC.
All controversies regarding the upcoming election need to be resolved, he said.
"Previously, we have held several open dialogues on behalf of the commission. It expresses the opinion of free and fair elections. The Commission has limited capacity and capability. We have admitted that and explained the reasons repeatedly."
"After conducting five-seven workshops on electronic voting machines (EVMs), we held meetings with political parties and experts. No one could show any errors. We have tried to highlight the comparative advantages and disadvantages of elections through EVM and ballot," CEC Kazi Habibul Awal said.
"Despite all this, the propaganda continues. Confusion about EVMs continues. We are really worried. We hope that the national leaders will engage in intensive discussions with a positive attitude to resolve the contentious issues through compromise and consensus," he concluded.
Amid uncertainty over the participation of all the political parties in the country, the EC is holding dialogues with the country's 39 registered political parties on the upcoming twelfth national election. EC is scheduled to hold talks with four parties a day until 31 July.
The EC is scheduled to meet with NDM from 10:30am to 11:30am, Bangladesh Nationalist Front (BNF) from 12:00pm to 1:00pm, Bangladesh Congress from 2:30pm to 3:30pm and Bangladesh Muslim League (BML) from 4:00pm to 5:00pm on the first day of the dialogue.
Meetings with the ruling Awami League and opposition Jatiya Party have been scheduled for the last day of the dialogue, while the BNP has been invited on 20 July.
Spokespersons for the opposition BNP, talking to The Business Standard, showed their reluctance to attend the meeting, while several others expressed their doubts whether the dialogue will produce any fruit. They also criticised the absence of a fixed agenda for the dialogues.
"We do not even recognise the commission. So, there is no reason for us to attend the dialogue," BNP Standing Committee Member Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain said.
Before the national elections, every commission arranged such dialogues with the political parties, and this commission is also doing the same, he added. Through the dialogues, the Election Commission aims to prepare a roadmap for the next national election.
The current EC had earlier invited these 39 parties to scrutinise electronic voting machines, widely known as EVMs, but 11 parties, including the BNP, rejected the invitation.