The 12th Jatiya Sangsad election will be held on 7 January, the Election Commission announced on Wednesday (15 November) amid staunch objections from the opposition parties, including the BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami.
Chief Election Commissioner Kazi Habibul Awal, announcing the schedule during a live telecast from the Nirbachan Bhaban around 7pm, invited all parties to participate in the polls as "there is an environment of holding free, fair and participatory polls".
He also stated that political parties will be able to submit nominations for candidacies till 30 November.
Rejecting the election schedule, BNP Senior Joint Secretary General Ruhul Kabir Rizvi warned that the country was now headed towards an "inevitable conflict".
"That a fair election can be held under this government is a complete lie. We boycott this biased Election Commission," he said in a reaction at a virtual press conference last night.
"Except for AL, for whom has this election schedule been announced?" he questioned.
The ruling Awami League welcomed the EC announcement, saying it goes in line with the constitution and elections will be held accordingly.
"The Election Commission has announced the schedule according to the constitution. The process of nomination of candidates will start soon for the final preparation of the election," Matia Chowdhury, presidium member of the party and deputy leader in Parliament.
She also said leaders and activists of the party had also been instructed to prevent "BNP-Jamaat anarchy" by occupying the streets.
The polls schedule came when opposition parties insisted a fair election is not possible under the AL rule and that consensus was yet to be reached regarding the form of government that would be in place during the election.
The CEC, however, said, "We have held discussions with various stakeholders on numerous occasions. Heard them out, heard their suggestions, and explained our position. We have also called different political parties for dialogue."
He added, "The commission, with the government's help, wants peaceful, participatory and free polls. All political parties must abide by the code of conduct, maintain law and order."
The Election Commission will scrutinise the nomination submissions from 1-4 December. Appeals against the nominations can be submitted from 6-5 December and nominations need to be withdrawn by 17 December.
The CEC also said political parties will be able to distribute symbols within 18 December and the election campaign will officially kick off on 18 December. The campaign duration will end on 8:00am on 5 January.
To conduct the election on 300 constituencies, the EC has appointed a total of 66 returning officer and 592 assistant returning officer.
Earlier this month, the CEC made it clear that it did not have a mandate to resolve the crisis between political parties given the limited time in hand ahead of the 12th parliamentary election.
Under the constitution, the national election must be held within 90 days before the five-year term of the current parliament expires.
Prior to the EC telecast, US Ambassador Peter Haas handed out letters sent by US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu – calling for "dialogue without preconditions" – among the AL, the BNP and the Jatiya Party.
The letters also reiterated the call of "free, fair, impartial, and participatory elections".
Reacting to Donald Lu's letter, Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader yesterday rejected the possibility of dialogue with opposition parties to resolve the ongoing political deadlock.
The BNP, Jamaat and other like-minded parties have long been demanding the national polls be held under a non-party neutral caretaker administration while the ruling Awami League maintains that the election will take place as per the constitution, under the government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The political standoff turned to an escalation on 28 October, when the AL, BNP and Jamaat convened rallies in the capital, resulting the death of a constable, injuries and fierce clashes in downtown Dhaka.
The BNP rally was suspended midway by BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul, who also announced a hartal for the next day. He was arrested next day.
This was followed by arrests of other senior BNP leaders, including Amir Khosru and Moazzem Hussain.
The BNP enforced a hartal and blockades the following days while Jamaat-e-Islami and other parties, who held similar demands, also called similar programmes.
Also on the day of the election schedule announcement, the BNP, Jamaat-e-Islami and some other parties were observing the fifth phase of their blockade. In the evening, the BNP brought out processions across the country protesting the announcement of the schedule.
Jamaat, urging the Awami League government to step down, Islami called for the cancellation of the announced election schedule.
"This illegal schedule should be cancelled. Sheikh Hasina must resign and the Awami League government must leave," said Jamaat's Dhaka Metropolitan North Secretary Dr Rezaul Karim.
Islami Andolon Bangladesh leaders and activists brought out a protest march around 3:30pm, after assembling at the north gate of Baitul Mukarram National Mosque, towards the Election Commission building that ended at Shantinagar amid police intervention.
Earlier on Tuesday, the party announced the plan to hold a protest march towards the Election Commission building if the election schedule is announced without reaching a political consensus.
Electoral code of conduct comes into effect
With the announcement of the polls schedule, the electoral code of conduct has taken immediate effect.
The EC is likely to issue directives today, asking all aspiring candidates to remove their posters, placards, banners and billboards from public places.
Ahead of the election schedule announcement, major cities and districts of the country were brought under a security blanket through the deployment of police, Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) and the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB).
At least 10 platoons of BGB were deployed around the areas surrounding the Nirbachan Bhaban in Agargaon in Dhaka, where eyes were glued on for the announcement.
Crude bombs blasted in Bogura
Immediately after the announcement of the schedule, a group of 50-60 youths brought out a procession in Bogura city and blasted two crude bombs at the Mofiz Pagla intersection in the city around 7:30pm yesterday, said Saihan Oliullah, the officer in Charge of Bogura Sadar police station.
In addition, a cargo truck was set ablaze on the Dhaka-Rangpur highway by the participants of a torch procession in the Banani area of Bogura around 8:30 pm yesterday.
Bogura Fire Service Senior Station Officer Shahidul Islam told TBS that some parts of the vehicles were burnt before the fire was put out. But no one was hurt.
Jamaat attacks police in Rajshahi
An attack from a Jamaat-Shibir procession on police officers occurred in Rajshahi's Sapura Gorasthan area at around 8pm yesterday, said Rajshahi Metropolitan Police Additional Commissioner of Police Hemayetul Islam.
He said four policemen were injured and a police car was vandalised in the attack.
BNP attempts to block roads in Cumilla
Cumilla Metropolitan unit BNP brought out a procession from the city's Government Women's College but the procession was halted by local police in the Rani Dighi area. BNP men then tried to block the road by burning tyres.
Cumilla South District and Metropolitan Awami League, on the other hand, took out processions in support of the 7 January election.
Deputy Commissioner of Cumilla Khandkar Md Mushfiqur Rahman said nine platoons of BGB, six patrol teams of RAB and 427 policemen are working to maintain law and order in Cumilla