EC says can't bar Islamic parties
Friday, 29 February 2008

Staff Correspondent

The Election Commission has rejected calls by most political parties to ban groups using their Islamic identity to contest elections.

The demand came as parties held a second round of talks with the commission to discuss preparations for parliamentary polls the country's army-backed interim government pledged to hold around the end of this year.

"Islamic parties cannot be banned or barred from contesting elections because there is no such provision in the constitution," deputy commissioner Sakhawat Hossain, a retied brigadier-general, told reporters.

He made the comment late on Wednesday after leaders of the Jamaat-e-Islami party held talks with commission officials and strongly advised against any move to ban Islamic parties.

Nearly 90 percent of Bangladesh's more than 140 million people are Muslims, but a majority of them are against Jamaat because it had opposed Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan in 1971.

Many Bangladeshis accuse the Jamaat, the country's biggest religion-based political party, of helping the Pakistani army in the 1971 war and in what they call a "genocide" in former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Jamaat denies the charge.

Previously known as East Pakistan, Bangladesh won independence in 1971 after a nine-month war helped by India in which official records say 3 million people were killed and thousands of women raped. Since independence the Jamaat has steadily rebuilt itself into a strong political force, and has often been courted by other parties for support in elections.

It was a coalition partner in the government of former prime minister Begum Kahleda Zia, who ended her second five-year rule in October 2006. Demands for trial of war criminals has intensified in recent months.

On Thursday, the Krishak Sramik Janata League asked the Election Commission to ban the Jamaat from the coming polls.

"We are not saying that a religious person cannot do politics, but war criminals and religion-based parties are not the same," leader of the League, Kader Siddiqui, a war veteran, told reporters after a meeting with the election commission.

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