At a time when Bangladesh’s Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Kazi Habibul Awal has expressed apprehensions over the much-anticipated American punitive measures, including a range of sanctions against Bangladesh, a “joint meeting” between all the poll panel members and Dhaka-based European Union officials is being inexplicably deferred since earlier this month.
Documents in possession of Northeast News indicate that the “joint meeting”, first sought by the EU since November 7, has been postponed at least thrice since then.
In an email to Awal on November 7, Cherrie Merylin Dio, senior secretary to EU delegation in Bangladesh, sought a meeting, on behalf of the EU Ambassador Charles Whiteley, with the CEC.
Copies of the email were marked to Whiteley and Sebastian Riger-Brown, First Secretary (Political), Delegation of the EU to Bangladesh, European External Action.
A printout of the email was duly filed at the Bangladesh Election Commission (BEC) secretariat, with an additional secretary marking it to the director concerned on November 22. However, neither the CEC nor any other BEC official responded to Dio’s email.
After waiting for 15 days, Whiteley personally wrote to Awal, saying, “In order to gain insights into ongoing work of the Election Commission, I would appreciate the opportunity for a joint meeting, together with EU Heads of Mission, at your office”.
Whiteley then asked, “Would you be available next week, preferably on Monday 27 November at 3:00 pm? I look forward to your response and to our future exchanges”.
However, without assigning any reasons for deferring the meeting, the BEC on November 27 rescheduled the engagement with the EU delegation for November 29.
Incidentally, the EU delegation will be meeting Jatiya Party Chairman G M Qader, whose party is faced with an imminent split, the same day. “The EU delegation is insistent on the meeting with Awal,” BEC sources said.
The BEC is under pressure from various internal and external quarters, including the ruling Awami League. On the other hand, there is the looming threat of US punitive measures for failing to comply with repeated suggestions that free, fair, violence-free and participatory elections are held across Bangladesh.
Besides, the BEC itself is a “divided house”, especially over some sensitive issues surrounding the political and electoral implications of the October 28 violence in Dhaka and the manner in which the ruling Awami League seeks to go ahead with the election process and the January 7 polls.
Earlier this month, there were reports of quarrels and bickering among the five election commissioners on a range of issues, leading to a schism in the five-member panel.
Northeast News had reported on November 13 that a “strong” letter from the EU representative was at the centre of a high-decibel altercation between Awal and Election Commissioner Anisur Rahman.
At that time, BEC sources had revealed some “katha kata-kati (altercation)” between Awal and Rahman over a “sensitive missive” sent to the poll panel by Whiteley.