The Election Commission last night shifted the Dhaka city corporation polls date to February 1 in the face of mounting pressure from various quarters as the previous date, January 30, coincided with Saraswati Puja.
The decision came at an emergency meeting held at its office in the capital.
Following the announcement, the government deferred the SSC and its equivalent examinations. The tests will now start on February 3, instead of February 1, said Education Minister Dipu Moni.
Since the first week of this month, members of Hindu community and Dhaka University students had been demanding the EC change the election date as Saraswati Puja is a major religious festival of the Hindus.
A section of DU students even went on hunger strike and at least 13 of them fell sick. Later, many, including mayor candidates and leaders of the BNP-led Jatiya Oikyafront, expressed solidary with the demonstrators.
Ruling Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader on Friday said his party or the government would not object if EC decided to change the polls date.
Speaking at a press briefing after the meeting yesterday, Chief Election Commissioner KM Nurul Huda said they shifted the polls date so that no one’s religious sentiment is hurt.
He said they had earlier decided to hold the elections to Dhaka south and north city corporations on January 30 after being informed that the puja would be celebrated on January 29.
The CEC also said they talked to Education Minister Dipu Moni and requested her to take steps for deferring the SSC and its equivalent exams.
The EC held the emergency meeting for four hours from 4:00pm with a break for the Maghrib prayers. The meeting was attended by CEC KM Nurul Huda and election commissioners Mahbub Talukdar, Rafiqul Islam, Kabita Khanam and retd brig general Shahadat Hossain Chowdhury. Other top EC officials, and returning officers of the city corporation polls were also present.
Talking to reporters later at her residence in the capital, Dipu Moni said her ministry decided that the exams would begin on February 3, instead of February 1, so that the EC could hold the polls on February 1.
Ziaul Haque, chief of Inter-Education Board Coordination Sub-committee and also the chairman of Dhaka education board, said they would notify students about the changes in the schedule today.
More than two million students are expected to take the exams this year.
The EC had announced the polls schedule on December 22. Members of the Hindu community were upset after learning that the voting would take place on the day of Saraswati Puja.
As per Loknath Panjika, a traditional annual Bangla calendar followed by the Hindus, the puja would begin at 9:10am on January 29 and continue till 11:00am the next day.
Saraswati Puja is observed at almost all educational institutions where worshippers gather to offer prayers. Usually, polling centres are also set up at schools, colleges and universities.
Many took to social media to criticise the EC’s decision.
Election Commissioner Rafiqul Islam, however, said they had fixed the election date keeping in mind that Saraswati Puja, according to the government calendar, falls on January 29.
After the EC announced the new polls date, the DU students on fast-unto-death withdrew the strike last night.
University Vice-Chancellor Prof Akhtaruzzaman gave them water and juice.
Bangladesh Hindu-Bouddha-Christian Oikya Parishad also withdrew their weeklong protests, said its General Secretary Rana Dasgupta. He also thanked the EC for changing the polls date.
Earlier on January 14 and 15, another group of DU students blocked the busy Shahbagh intersection for nearly one hour, demanding deferral of the election.
Dhaka University Teachers Association and Dhaka University Central Students’ Union also made the same demand.
An appeal was filed with the Supreme Court on Thursday, challenging a High Court ruling that rejected a writ petition for changing the election date. The writ petition was filed by Supreme Court lawyer Ashoke Kumar Ghosh on January 6.
Meanwhile, mayor candidates from the AL and the BNP welcomed the EC’s decision to change the polls date for Saraswati Puja.