General elections in Bangladesh, called off in January amid political turmoil, may take place only in end-2008 or early 2009.
The reconstituted Election Commission (EC) indicated this in an announcement, saying it would first issue national identity cards and simultaneously prepare a voters' list with photographs before holding the ninth general elections.
The Bangladesh Army, which has offered its expertise to prepare the identity cards in 10-12 months at an estimated cost of three billion takas ($43.5 million), might be asked to take the responsibility, sources in the EC said.
"The massive undertaking is likely to start after July and it will require at least a year to be completed. So the ninth parliamentary election might be held at the end of 2008 or in early 2009 after the task is completed, officials of the EC Secretariat predicted," said The Daily Star newspaper on Thursday.
"The work of preparing the voter list and national identity cards will start simultaneously following a single procedure. There is no point in spending time and money separately for the tasks," Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) ATM Shamsul Huda was quoted as saying.
Huda, who Tuesday discussed electoral reforms with Chief Adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed, said initially that people eligible to be registered on the electoral roll would be provided with national identity cards.
He said four to five months would be needed to complete the preparatory work, including floating tenders and training field level officials to start the process.
Electoral reforms, particularly a 'neutral' Election Commission and fully updated voters' list, was high on the agenda of the 14-party political alliance led by former prime minister Sheikh Hasina, who unleashed a movement and eventually boycotted the elections in December.
The caretaker government of Ahmed, who took office Jan 14, says it is implementing reforms that the political parties have been demanding and hence they should wait till they are carried through before seeking elections.
Political parties, however, have been clamouring for early election.