Country Report Bangladesh January 1996 Main report

Political scene: EC puts back date of the general election twice--

On December 15, just as nominations for the January 18 general election were about to close, the EC announced that it would be prepared to put off the election by a few weeks to give the government and opposition parties more time to resolve their differences. Up to that point, the opposition parties had refused all offers of talks with the Chief Election Commissioner to avert their threatened boycott of the election. Initially, the election date was put back to February 7, but at the time of writing the date has been put back again by a further week to February 15, allowing more time for talks and for candidate registration (due to close on January 17). The election date now falls during Ramadan, but there is no constitutional bar to this. Under the terms of the constitution, polling must be held within 90 days of parliament being dissolved, ie by February 22. It was thought advisable to have a few days in hand in case it was necessary to rerun the ballot. The postponement of the general election date for the second time coincided with another opposition-led strike, for 48 hours, which paralysed much of the country.

--takes a firm line on conduct during the campaign--

In an attempt to be seen as a firm, impartial adjudicator, the EC had issued a 34-point code of conduct in November for the general election. This restricted a candidate's expenditure to Tk300,000 ($7,500) and barred bank defaulters from contesting the poll. In addition, the EC said that voting would not be allowed to take place if it found evidence of votes being bought either for money or by threats of violence. Later it banned the use of multicoloured posters and banners made from cloth, the setting- up of gates or arches using party symbols, and the daubing of walls with election slogans. An electoral inquiry committee was appointed in each district, headed by judicial officials, to look into any alleged irregularities and offences. The penalty for failing to comply with the EC's orders was imprisonment for between two and seven years, with no warrant required and no bail considered. Other measures taken by the EC were designed to give all parties equal access to the media, with the media to remain strictly neutral.

--and confiscates illegal arms, with help from the security forces

In addition, the EC enlisted the help of the armed forces for the confiscation of illegally held arms and the maintenance of law and order during the election. The commissioner initially asked for unauthorised weapons to be surrendered voluntarily before December 20; when this request went unheeded, he sent in the police for a crackdown. During the first three days of the searches 2,000 people were arrested for the manufacture, possession and use of illegal arms; 250 firearms and a large quantity of explosives was seized. In subsequent raids the army and paramilitary troops were also drafted in to help the police. This hardline approach is to continue right up to the day of the vote.

© 1996 The Economist lntelligence Unit Ltd. All rights reserved
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