[Dhaka Correspondent] High Court Sunday stayed Election Commission’s dialog on electoral reforms with the government-backed faction of BNP, scheduled to be held on November 22. High Court bench of Justice Nazmun Ara Sultana and Justice MA Tarique stayed, for four weeks, the operation of EC’s invitation letter to M Hafizuddin Ahmed, who was appointed the acting secretary-general of the party at a controversial meeting attended by some members of the party standing committee.
The court also issued a rule on EC to explain in three weeks why the invitation letter would not be declared illegal and void. The court came up with the order to halt the dialog, just four days ahead of the scheduled meeting, after hearing a writ petition filed by the detained BNP chairperson and former prime minister, Khaleda Zia.
CEC ATM Shamsul Huda, told newsmen Sunday evening that the scheduled dialog would not be held due to the High Court order, “As the High Court has stayed the operation of the invitation letter, the scheduled dialog with BNP will not be held. In answer to a query, he said, “We will reply to the court’s rule.” When he was asked whether EC would go to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court to seek stay of High Court order, he said, “It is too early to comment. Let us see what happens in the High Court.”
Pleading for Khaleda, her counsel TH Khan termed the EC invitation letter illegal, mala fide and without lawful authority, and told the court that it was issued to subvert the process of law and in violation of BNP constitution. BNP chairperson on November 13 issued a legal notice on EC, asking for withdrawal of its invitation letter to Hafizuddin that was sent on November 5, but EC, in its reply on November 13, refused to withdraw the invitation letter, said the counsel.
On November 6, a day after the invitation letter was sent, CEC had said that the “doctrine of necessity” had prompted EC to invite the Saifur-led faction of the BNP to the dialog, said TH Khan, adding that such a remark by the CEC was made in violation of the law and the constitution. BNP chairperson, the only elected person in the party’s hierarchy, enjoys the exclusive authority and power to include or expel anybody, argued the counsel.
Khaleda appointed Khandakar Delwar Hossain as the secretary-general after expelling Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan from the party on September 2, a day before she was arrested. BNP’s acting office secretary, Rizvi Ahmed, wrote two letters, dated September 5 and 24, to EC and requested it to invite BNP’s new secretary-general, Khandakar Delwar Hossain, to the dialog.
In the absence of BNP’s chairperson, the secretary-general is the only legitimate representative of BNP and so it is he who should be invited to the proposed dialog, the counsel contended. He also mentioned that the High Court on November 4 had issued a rule on EC to explain why it would not be directed to invite the “legitimate BNP leaders to the dialog in accordance with its rules and the party’s constitution. Just a day after the issuance of the rule, EC dispatched the invitation letter to Hafiz, who was illegally appointed acting secretary-general by a controversial meeting of the BNP’s standing committee held on October 29, contended the counsel.
According to the BNP constitution, only the chairperson has the authority to convene a meeting of the standing committee, which needs a quorum, but the controversial meeting was neither called by the chairperson nor did it have the required quorum, he continued.
Opposing the writ petition, additional attorney-general Salahuddin Ahmed said, “EC is an independent constitutional institution and it deserves the power to invite any party to its dialog.” In reply to a question by the court, he said that EC might also invite the other faction of the BNP led by Khandakar Delwar. As the court was apparently not convinced by his arguments, the additional attorney-general further argued that the court might issue a rule for examining the legality of EC’s decision in inviting Hafizuddin, but it should not stay the operation of the invitation letter.
Opposing the additional attorney-general’s plea, TH Khan argued, “Unless the operation of the letter is stayed, the rule will have no efficacy.”