Thursday, December 28, 2006

Jatiya Party Chairman barred from polls

Violent protest in greater Rangpur

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

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. He also said that since he is in the grand alliance, he will take the decision in consultation with the alliance partners. As per the latest reports, 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.

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.

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