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Bangladesh election body rules out new polls before 2008

The election commission says it needs time to revise the country's voter list.

world Updated: Apr 05, 2007 18:07 IST


A top Bangladesh election commissioner on Thursday ruled out new polls before late 2008 in order to have time to revise the country's voter list.

"We will need at least 18 months to prepare the voters list. Pragmatically speaking, this is the least amount of time we need to prepare the ground for credible elections," deputy election commissioner Shakhwat Hossain said.

After months of violent political turmoil, Bangladesh President Iajuddin Ahmed cancelled polls slated for late January and declared a state of emergency, paving the way for the installation of a military-backed government.

The new government vowed to clean up politics and installed new chiefs at the election commission to carry out sweeping reforms, including coming up with a new voter list with no errors.

The main opposition Awami League had complained ahead of the January polls that the voter list prepared by a previous election commission contained millions of fake names.

It also alleged the then chief election commissioner supported the outgoing Bangladesh Nationalist Party-led coalition.

On Thursday Hossain, appointed by the new government, said concerns would be addressed in the new list. There would also be improved voter ID, he added.

"It is a huge task and we want to do it the best way possible. The United Nations is helping us with consultants and financing of the huge project," he said. "We are taking time because we don't want to hold farcical elections."

The government, now led by former central bank governor Fakhruddin Ahmed, has launched a massive anti-graft crackdown in the past three months which has included the arrests of more than 45 high-profile politicians.

It also banned political activity for an indefinite period.

But Hossain said the commission had asked the government to lift the ban so that it could hold talks with the political parties on the proposed reforms.

"We urged the law adviser (current justice minister) to lift the ban on indoor politics. We cannot hold talks with the parties unless the ban is withdrawn. He said he would discuss the issue with the head of the interim government," Hossain said.

"In the meantime, we will talk with the civil society about the reforms. And everything we are doing is to hold free and fair elections in the country."

On Thursday, the commission also unveiled tough new candidate eligibility rules, saying these would be enacted by July this year.

Under the reforms, the government would bar loan and utility bill defaulters from taking part in any future polls while political parties would have to declare the sources of their funds.

First Published: Apr 05, 2007 18:00 IST