The Election Commission (EC) is scheduled to start holding dialogues with the country's 39 registered political parties today on the upcoming twelfth national election, amid uncertainty over the participation of all the invitees.
Attending the previously-set sessions of the 15-day programme, the parties can discuss any issue as the commission has not kept the agenda fixed.
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.
"We will not go for elections under any party-led government," he added.
"We think there will be no fruitful outcome from this dialogue," Jatiya Party Secretary General Mujibul Haque added, saying the party is yet to decide whether or not to join the talks.
"All executive and law enforcement officers are bound to follow the orders of the EC, but there is no punishment in law in case of officials' non-compliance. Therefore, the commission will have no power if the government does not support it," he said while talking to The Business Standard.
Workers Party of Bangladesh President Rashed Khan Menon said, "I don't see any result from the EC's previous dialogues. This dialogue will be a repeat of the same. There is nothing new."
Advocate Subrata Chowdhury, general-secretary of Gonoforum, said the party has gone through many EC dialogues. "None of them yielded any results. They are useless. So we're not going."
"The commission acts according to the wishes of the government. Dialogue is just a trick to fool the people. All is just stage-managed to bring a particular group to power," he said, adding that a non-partisan government is a must for holding a free and fair election.
Starting off with a dialogue with the Nationalist Democratic Movement, the Election Commission is supposed to hold talks with four parties a day until 31 July.
Meetings with the ruling Awami League and opposition Jatiya Party have been scheduled for the last day, while the BNP has been invited on 20 July.
The 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.
Joint General Secretary of the Awami League Mahbubul Alam Hanif confirmed that the party will attend the meeting. "We have not decided yet on which subjects we will talk. At the next working committee meeting, we will discuss the agenda," he told The Business Standard.
Regarding the agenda, EC Additional Secretary Ashok Kumar Debnath told TBS that there is no fixed agenda for the dialogue, for it has been kept open.
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.
Referring to the EC letter, Communist Party of Bangladesh General-Secretary Ruhin Hossain Prince criticised the language of the letter and said that no agenda was mentioned in the letter. "What we will discuss should be mentioned."
Reading through the invitation letter one gets the impression that many things have already been done, such as amending the law to make elections fair. "If all these things have been done, then why are you [EC] calling us?" asked the politician.
"In addition, the letter said this dialogue is to ensure the participation of all parties. How will all parties be sure of participation? Will the EC do it by force? After reviewing all these issues, we will decide on going to the EC dialogue", Ruhin Hossain Prince told TBS.