Vol. 5 Num 920 Thu. December 28, 2006  
Front Page

Ershad barred from polls
Grand alliance to rethink election participation

Jatiya Party (JP) Chairman HM Ershad was declared disqualified from the ballot yesterday, forcing Awami League (AL)-led grand electoral alliance to re-think whether it will compete in the upcoming parliamentary election.

Returning officers (RO) rejected the five nomination papers Ershad had filed for the constituencies of Dhaka-5, Rangpur-3, Lalmonirhat-3, Sylhet-3 and Habiganj-3, on grounds of the Supreme Court's rejection of his appeal against a High Court verdict that had sentenced him to two years in prison in a graft case popularly known as 'Japanese boat purchase scam'.

The RO's rejection of Ershad's nomination papers sparked a violent protest in greater Rangpur where leaders and activists of JP (Ershad) staged protests yesterday and called for dawn-to-dusk hartals today in different districts.

Ershad, who could not contest the 2001 election as he had been convicted in Janata Tower case, can now file an appeal against his latest disqualification with the Election Commission (EC) in three days, on which the commission will have to give a decision before January 3.

Sensing the rejection coming his way, Ershad met AL President Sheikh Hasina in her residence at 11:50am yesterday and discussed strategies for the next course of action.

He told reporters that if the 'conspiracy against him' continues he might not contest the election. "I am eligible to contest the election, but they are obstructing me. Since I'm now in the grand alliance, I'll take my decision in consultation with the alliance partners," he said emerging from the meeting.

The grand electoral alliance, which includes AL-led 14-party, JP (Ershad), and Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), yesterday threatened to launch a movement and boycott the election if vested quarters do not refrain from 'conspiring'.

In a couple of days, the grand alliance that filed nomination papers on Tuesday shifting from its rigid stance of not participating in the poll under the caretaker government led by President Iajuddin Ahmed, will announce whether it will remain in the race, sources said.

AL President Sheikh Hasina, JP Chairman Ershad, and LDP President AQM Badruddoza Chowdhury either in a joint news conference or in separate conferences today or tomorrow will inform the nation about their latest position on the election, sources said.

Senior leaders of the grand alliance started hectic consultations among themselves and the majority opinion is now in favour of quitting the race as in their view the atmosphere for a free and fair election is totally absent.

To create a congenial atmosphere, the alliance from its grand rally on December 18 came up with a set of demands including resignation of President Iajuddin Ahmed from the post of chief adviser to the caretaker government, correction and publication of the voter list before announcing the election schedule, and depoliticisaiton of the police and civil administrations.

The alliance however on December 24 suddenly decided to file nomination papers, but it has yet to make a formal announcement regarding whether it will participate in the election.

It however repeatedly said it will make an announcement on January 2, a day before the deadline for withdrawing candidacies.

Talking to reporters after the meeting between Ershad and Hasina yesterday, AL Joint General Secretary Obaidul Quader, who attended the meeting, said a conspiracy is on to keep Ershad outside the race. "Tough agitation programmes like non-stop hartal, blockade and laying of a siege to Bangabhaban will be announced if the conspiracy continues," he warned.

"The administration hasn't been depoliticised yet. The Election Commission and Bangabhaban are

working under the diktats of unseen forces. We're also thinking whether we'll participate in the election," Quader said.

JP Secretary General ABM Ruhul Amin Hawlader termed Ershad's disqualification as a 'conspiracy by the immediate past ruling party to keep him out of the race'.

"Our participation in the election will be uncertain...we may withdraw our candidacies if our chairman is sent to jail as part of 'a political vendetta'," Ruhul Amin Hawlader said.

He however said they might appeal against the decision. "If we don't get justice, we will decide our next course of action consulting with Awami League," he said.

A delegation of JP rushed to the EC to protest the RO's decision, but the EC secretary informed that they have nothing to do with the matter at this stage.

The offices of the ROs of the constituencies concerned communicated with each other yesterday and came up with a common decision of rejecting Ershad's nomination papers, sources said.

Finding it difficult to take a decision on the issue of Ershad's nomination papers filed in Dhaka-5 constituency, RO Mahfuzur Rahman referred the matter to the EC.

"I sent the matter to the Election Commission," Mahfuzur, also Dhaka divisional commissioner, told reporters in his office before announcing his decision.

In the afternoon, he announced his decision saying, "I did what I thought was right."

The EC secretary however denied receiving any such referral from the RO. "The information is not correct. The Election Commission has nothing to do with the matter. The returning officer took the decision," EC Secretary Abdur Rashid Sarkar told reporters.

Sources said the EC is now documenting the Ershad case for adjudication if an appeal is filed against the rejection.

To decide the fate of Ershad's nomination papers for Habiganj-3 constituency, sources said the RO, who is also the deputy commissioner of Habiganj district, held hearings twice in presence of both sides. He finally sought opinion from the district public prosecutor (PP), who is known as a pro-BNP lawyer and who was appointed as a PP during the immediate past government's regime.

The PP sent his opinion saying that Ershad's nomination papers should be declared unacceptable. Receiving the opinion, the RO rejected Ershad's nomination papers for Habiganj-3 constituency.

Ershad was relieved from five corruption cases in August and September this year following an alleged negotiation with the immediate past BNP-led government promising that he would join the erstwhile ruling alliance. But in late November, Ershad started speaking against joining BNP-led four-party alliance and suddenly a pending case against him picked up speed.

The High Court on December 14 upheld the trial court verdict in the Japanese boat purchase case, but cut the sentence from three years to two.

A Divisional Special Sessions Judge's Court on July 6, 1995 sentenced him to three years in jail with a fine of Tk 10,000 in a graft charge regarding purchase of Japanese boats.

On December 19, Ershad filed a petition seeking a stay of the HC verdict. The same day he also filed a criminal miscellaneous petition (CMP) against the HC ruling.

The chamber judge of Supreme Court on December 26, the last day for filing nomination papers for the upcoming election, rejected Ershad's appeal and asked him to surrender before the trial court.

The copy of the judgement was sent to the EC and to the office of the returning officers hurriedly to decide the fate of his nomination papers, sources said

The constitution says that a person shall not be eligible to be a member of parliament if convicted and sentenced to at least two years in prison in a case of criminal offence involving moral turpitude unless a period of five years has elapsed since his release.

A widespread debate has begun on whether Ershad should be allowed to contest the polls. The state lawyers, who were appointed by the immediate past government, have been arguing that Ershad is not eligible for contesting the polls in accordance with the provision of the constitution. On the other hand, eminent jurists are arguing that Ershad is eligible to contest the polls since he already served two years in jail in the case and because five years have already elapsed since his release in 1997.

Ershad talks to press coming out of Sudha Sadan