The Gono Bhaban will be at the centre of public attention today as the ruling Awami League-led 14-party alliance and opposition coalition Jatiya Oikyafront hold the much-hyped talks there in the evening.
Some major contentious issues, including the nature of the polls-time government and dissolution of parliament before the announcement of the polls schedule, will dominate the dialogue.
The ruling AL said it would come to the meeting “with an open mind”. But the BNP, a major component of the newly formed Oikyafront, cast doubt about the outcome of the dialogue when party chief Khaleda Zia remains in jail.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will lead the 14-party delegation in the talks scheduled for 7:00pm.
The Oikyafront team will be led by Dr Kamal Hossain, a former AL leader and minister in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's government.
Talks with other political parties are expected in the coming days.
Bikalpadhara Bangladesh headed by former president Prof Badruddoza Chowdhury will sit for talks tomorrow.
HM Ershad-led Jatiya Party, currently the main opposition in parliament, has been invited for the talks on November 5. On the other hand, the Left Democratic Alliance has been asked to send a list of its delegation members who intend to join the talks with the PM and other ruling alliance leaders.
The dramatic development comes as the 90-day countdown for the national election began yesterday. Under the constitution, the election must be held by January 28 when the five-year tenure of the tenth parliament expires.
The schedule for the 11th parliamentary election will be announced within a week, Election Commission Secretary Helaluddin Ahmed said yesterday.
Dialogues among political parties before national election are nothing new in Bangladesh. There have been several successful talks since democracy was restored in 1991. But a number of them also failed and deepened the political crisis that was meant to be resolved through talks.
Before the last parliamentary election in 2014, Hasina had called Khaleda by phone for talks. But that never happened as Khaleda turned down the invitation.
Today's dialogue comes amid uncertainty over participation of all political parties in the election. Parties are still divided over the mode of the election-time government, dissolution of parliament, use of electronic voting machines and the role of army during the election.
The BNP and its allies as well as some other opposition parties demand a non-partisan government, dissolution of parliament and reconstitution of the Election Commission before the polls, among other things.
The AL and its allies say the election will be held in line with the constitution, meaning with the incumbent government in office and without dissolving the parliament.
THE MUCH-HYPED TALKS
Kamal wrote to the PM on October 28 on behalf of the Oikyafront, requesting her to hold talks. On Tuesday, the PM invited the alliance for talks at her official residence.
AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader, its senior leaders Amir Hossain Amu, Tofail Ahmed, Matia Chowdhury, Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim, Workers Party of Bangladesh President Rashed Khan Menon, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) President Hasanul Huq Inu, JSD-faction leader Mainuddin Khan Badal, and Sammobadi Dal General Secretary Dilip Barua are on the 23-member delegation of the ruling alliance.
There are five BNP leaders in the 16-member Oikyafront delegation.
The team includes BNP Secretary General Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) President ASM Abdur Rab, Nagorik Oikya Convener Mahmudur Rahman Manna and Gonoshasthaya Kendra founder Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury.
Though the Gono Bhaban has made preparations for dinner for the delegation, Oikyafront leaders are unlikely to take any food there.
“We are not going for dinner. We are going for talks there,” said Mahmudur Rahman Manna.
'FOR NATIONAL INTEREST'
Kamal, also president of the Gonoforum, said talks should be held in national interest, and not in the interest of any political party.
“We believe in talks. We always think people are the owner of the country. And owners will always talk among themselves in the interest of the country, not for any party,” he told a discussion at the Jatiya Press Club yesterday.
“Let the dialogue be held in national interest. Let the talks be held keeping national goals and constitutional values at the forefront. We always supported it and will fully support it in future.”
BNP CASTS DOUBT
Mirza Fakhrul said no dialogue and election would be fruitful with Khaleda in jail, reports UNB.
"The government has offered to hold dialogue on the one hand and enhanced Khaleda Zia's punishment on the other. These are two conflicting moves, which don't demonstrate government's sincerity for talks," he told a programme in the city.
He said the government must fully accept Oikyafront's seven-point demand for holding a credible and neutral election.
On Monday, a special court convicted Khaleda in Zia Charitable Trust corruption case and sentenced her to seven years' rigorous imprisonment.
The following day, the High Court doubled her five-year jail term, originally handed down by a lower court in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case.
PM READY FOR TALKS
The prime minister is ready to sit for dialogues with other political parties as well, said Obaidul Quader.
“Let's see who are interested. But time is a crucial factor here. If the election schedule is announced by November 4, 5 or 6, then how will the dialogues take place?” Quader, also the road transport and bridges minister, told reporters at the secretariat yesterday.
About Mirza Fakhrul's comment over the outcome of the talks, Quader said neither the AL nor the PM delivered the verdicts in corruption cases against Khaleda.
There is no connection between dialogues and legal matters, he said, adding that there was no bar to discussing the issue during talks.