The BNP faces fresh troubles over its top leadership as the High Court yesterday directed the Election Commission not to accept the party's amended constitution until the disposal of a “BNP activist's” plea to the commission against the amendments.
In response to a writ petition filed by “the activist”, the court asked the EC to dispose of the plea within a month.
The HC also issued a rule questioning the legality of the changes in the BNP charter.
It asked some high-ups of the EC, the LGRD ministry and the BNP to explain within four weeks why the deletion of the provision in the party charter, which restricted a person convicted of corruption from holding party positions, will not be declared illegal as the changes violate article 66(2) (d) of the country's constitution.
The article says, “A person shall be disqualified for election as, or for being, a member of parliament who has been, on conviction for a criminal offence involving moral turpitude, sentenced to imprisonment for a term of not less than two years, unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.”
The HC order has again triggered a debate whether Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman can remain the party's chairperson and senior vice chairman respectively as they have been convicted and sentenced in corruption cases.
Khaleda, now in jail, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case on February 8. Tarique was also awarded 10 years' imprisonment in the graft case.
Tarique, who has been living in London since September 2008, is now acting chairman of the party in Khaleda's absence.
In its national council in March 2016, the BNP deleted section 7 of its charter that barred bankrupt, insane and corrupt people from becoming a member of the party or holding any party post. It also prevented such people from getting party nomination to contest the parliamentary election.
People convicted under the Collaborator Order 1972 were also declared disqualified in the omitted provision.
Md Mozammel Hossain, who claimed to be a BNP activist in the capital's Kafrul area, filed the plea with the EC on Tuesday afternoon, requesting the commission not to accept the amended charter. He submitted the application to the Dispatch Section of the EC Secretariat.
Yesterday, the EC was busy holding an inter-ministerial meeting on election preparations from 11:00am to 2:00pm.
Interestingly, Mozammel didn't give the EC time to address his plea. He hurriedly moved to the HC yesterday morning and filed the writ petition, seeking its directives to the EC.
The HC ordered the EC to dispose of the application within a month from the date of its submission, and not to accept the BNP's amended constitution before that.
The court also asked the EC to submit a report to it within a month.
The HC bench of Justice Md Ashfaqul Islam and Justice Mohammad Ali issued the directives and the rule around 11:00am while the EC was holding the inter-ministerial meeting.
EC Secretary Helaluddin Ahmed told this newspaper that they learnt about the HC order from news reports.
Officials then looked for Mozammel's letter in the piles of hundreds of letters at the EC secretariat.
"Later, we got it and went through it."
Asked about Mozammel, advocate Momtazuddin Mehedi, who moved the writ petition before the HC, said his client joined the BNP after being inspired by its ideology.
But Mozammel became aggrieved at the deletion of section 7 from the BNP constitution, said Mehedi, also a former member of the Awami League Central Working Committee.
The lawyer further said Mozammel approached him yesterday morning with the plea. "I agreed to move the petition on his behalf..."
Mehedi mentioned that the BNP amended its constitution on March 19, 2016, apprehending that Khaleda and Tarique would be convicted of corruption.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam told The Daily Star that according to section 7 of the BNP charter, Khaleda and Tarique cannot hold the office of BNP chairperson or acting chairperson as they have been convicted of corruption.
Contacted, BNP Vice Chairman and Supreme Court Bar Association President Zainul Abedin said they would decide on moving an appeal before the Supreme Court against the HC order after examining the directives and the writ petition.
He said the BNP charter was amended by its general members at its conference more than two years back and the EC accepted the amended constitution more than a year ago.
The writ petition, on which the HC passed the order, is not acceptable as the petitioner has no jurisdiction to file it, he said.
The petitioner is not affected by the amendment to the BNP charter, added Zainul.
BNP Senior Join Secretary General Rizvi Ahmed alleged that the writ petition is part of the government move to keep Khaleda and Tarique away from politics.
"We are not worried about the writ petition," he told this newspaper.
The BNP had submitted a copy of its amended charter to the EC at the end of January this year, around two weeks before Khaleda and Tarique were convicted and sentenced in the Zia Orphanage Trust graft case.
On Tuesday, the HC in a verdict rejected Khaleda's appeal against her conviction by a trial court and enhanced the punishment from five years' imprisonment to 10 years.
Earlier on Monday, a special court convicted and sentenced Khaleda to seven years in jail in Zia Charitable Trust Graft case.
Against this backdrop, the ruling AL sits with top leaders of the Jatiya Oikyafront, a newly floated alliance of the BNP and several other parties, to discuss contentious political issues. The mode of the election-time government and dissolution of the parliament ahead of the national polls are likely to be on the agenda.
As the 90-day countdown to the polls began yesterday, the EC prepares to announce the schedule this week for holding the election in mid-December.